'Oxford' blocks de Minaur Davis Cup dream

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 'Oxford' blocks de Minaur Davis Cup dream
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Alex de Minaur's "ultimate dream" of lifting the Davis Cup for Australia is tantalisingly close in his adopted Spanish home - but a charming if menacing figure is blocking his way.

Full of firepower and armed with two of the brightest young stars in tennis in Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, Canada are ready to take it to captain Lleyton Hewitt's team of battlers in the final in Malaga on Sunday (Monday AEDT).

The dynamic duo got to the final in 2019 and now, with 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime having clicked into the form of his young life, the Canadians believe it's their moment to lift the World Cup of men's tennis for the first time in its 122-year history.

Auger-Aliassime has long been tipped as a slam champion in waiting and has begun playing like one this last couple of months, while being bestowed with the new nickname of "Oxford" by fellow star Andrey Rublev because he's so humble, articulate and well-educated.

On the court, though, he can be an assassin.

They would never be so presumptuous as to say so but fielding the world No.6 Auger-Aliassime and No.18 Shapovalov must persuade the Canadians they could even wrap up the final without the need for a deciding doubles.

But this is not taking into account the 'Demon' factor. For world No.24 de Minaur is also playing the best tennis of his career, having recently downed a top-five player Daniil Medvedev for the first time and his match with Auger-Aliassime will be absolutely pivotal.

The bad news is that Auger-Aliassime has won their two previous clashes on hard courts, with his 6-3 6-2 trouncing of the Aussie No.1 in Cincinnati in August particularly ominous.

But that's not accounting for what the Davis Cup consistently dredges out of de Minaur. He's won both his singles this week and felt his demolition of Marin Cilic in a must-win rubber against Croatia in the semi-final was probably his best Cup triumph of the lot.

It has been a special week for the 23-year-old, who has a base in Alicante, a five-hour drive north of Malaga on the Costa Blanca and whose Spanish mum Esther has been cheering him on in the Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena.

"It's been an amazing week, I've got so many family and friends coming here to watch me. We're a long way from Oz, so it's great to have these Aussie fans here. Hopefully, we can keep it going all the way," said de Minaur.

Much will also depend on the opening singles rubber, in which Hewitt must choose who to play against Shapovalov, who's had a draining week and needed a time-out for back treatment during his loss on Saturday to Italian Lorenzo Sonego, the only blemish in Canada's 2-1 win.

Should Hewitt go with Jordan Thompson, who beat Shapovalov on grass when the Canadian was just an 18-year-old absolute beginner, or Thanasi Kokkinakis, who's never played him before?

Australia's first Davis Cup title for 19 years may yet stand or fall on that call.


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