Tennis

Diallo sends Canada into Davis Cup Finals, finishing off South Korea in qualifier on home soil

Montreal's Gabriel Diallo pushed Canada into the Davis Cup Finals group stage on Saturday. The hometown favourite defeated Hong Seong-chan 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 to give Canada a 3-1 victory over South Korea in the best-of-five qualifier at Montreal's IGA Stadium.

Hometown favourite gives Canada 3-1 victory in best-of-5 competition in Montreal

A group of male tennis players smile while raising their arms in celebration and holding a sign that says qualified.
From left: Canada's Vasek Pospisil, team captain Frank Dancevic, Alexis Galarneau, Gabriel Diallo, Liam Draxl and Milos Raonic celebrates their win over South Korea in the Davis Cup qualifier at Montreal's IGA Stadium on Saturday. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

Gabriel Diallo was reeling, committing error after error in a match where he clearly had the upper hand.

The Montreal native then came out in the decisive third set, cleaned up his play and pushed Canada into the Davis Cup Finals group stage on Saturday.

Diallo defeated Hong Seong-chan 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to give Canada a 3-1 victory over South Korea in the best-of-five qualifier before 1,925 fans inside Montreal's IGA Stadium. The 22-year-old committed 53 errors in the first two sets but limited himself to 11 in the third.

"I gave myself a pep talk in the bathroom [between sets]," Diallo half-heartedly said about how he turned things around. "I started to take it to him a little bit more. I was going for more on returns.

"If I have an aggressive mindset and I look to dictate the rallies and take advantage as soon as I can during the point, I'm going to miss less."

WATCH | Gabriel Diallo clinches Canada a berth in Davis Cup group stage:

Gabriel Diallo clinches Canada a berth in Davis Cup group stage

2 months ago
Duration 2:22
The 22-year-old from Montreal defeated Hong Seong-chan 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to earn Canada a spot in the Davis Cup Finals group stage.

The two-hour, 33-minute match could have ended much sooner if the six-foot-eight Diallo hadn't nearly beat himself.

Diallo dominated with 36 winners to 12, but his 64 unforced errors accounted for the vast majority of the five-foot-nine Hong's 84 total points.

"He did an amazing job of just snapping back into [the match] today and clicking and finding his game again," Canadian captain Frank Dancevic said. "I mean it's impressive. It's not always easy to do that."

Diallo also got Canada started Friday with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Kwon Soon-woo to open the tie.

Diallo steps up

Dancevic said that set the tone for his team, which was missing top players Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont. Former world No. 3 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., wasn't "100 per cent" and couldn't play this weekend, Dancevic added.

In the absence of star power, the No. 132-ranked Diallo stepped up to lead his country.

"I think we have a lot of depth on this team," Dancevic said. "Our team feels like they can beat anybody. I truly feel that and that's the way I feel on the bench. I don't care who's on the other side.

Canada returns to action for the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals in September at a to-be-determined location. The Finals are scheduled for November in Malaga, Spain.

Earlier Saturday, Nam Ji-sung and Song Min-kyu edged Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in a must-win doubles match to keep South Korea alive.

Second-ranked Canada took a commanding 2-0 lead over No. 18 South Korea on Friday as Pospisil defeated Hong 6-4, 6-3 in singles after Diallo's opening win.

"It started with Gabriel playing that way," Dancevic said. "We led 2-0 heading into [Saturday], so we had a good chance."

A fifth match between Pospisil and Kwon scheduled for later Saturday was not necessary.

Back-and-forth affair

Hong fended off Diallo's first three breakpoint opportunities in the opening set with solid defence — including a perfectly placed lob over his opponent and into the backcourt while down 4-3.

The Montreal athlete finally broke through on set point with an emphatic forehand winner down the line before letting out an emotional cheer.

Diallo carried that momentum into the second set, converting on a third breakpoint opportunity to go up 2-0, but Hong broke right back en route to taking the set.

"There were a lot of emotions, for sure," Dancevic said of watching Diallo's up-and-downs from the bench. "But I know how he can play, I sensed this week that he was feeling the ball.

"This wasn't a case of him searching for his game, so I had a lot of confidence."

In doubles, the South Koreans held all 16 of their service games en route to victory. Canada put just 60 per cent of its first serves in play and committed 41 unforced errors to South Korea's 31.

"They served really well, we didn't get many opportunities," said Galarneau, who was playing in his first competitive match this year. "They're doubles specialists so we were expecting them to play a good match, and (there are) small details on my end personally that I know I could have been a little bit sharper on.

"Maybe that would have made the difference."

Up 1-0 in the third set, South Korea converted on its third breakpoint opportunity to go up 2-0.

Canada earned its first — and only — breakpoint chance in the ensuing game but the South Koreans fended it off with ease, forcing a deuce before winning the frame.

Song, who gave the Canadians trouble with his serve all afternoon, won the match with an ace.

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