The ice men heat up Davis Cup: Finland is in the semifinals
MÁLAGA – Finland did not have its number one, but it did have an amazing crowd that filled the stands of the Palacio de Deportes Martín Capena in Málaga and made it feel as if it was a stadium in Helsinki. The energy of the 4000 Finnish fans was fundamental for the Northern European team to eliminate Canada, the reigning Davis Cup champion.
The picture became more complicated than it already was for the Finns, because their number one, Emil Ruusuvuori had to withdraw due to injury before the start of their tie. On the nominal side it was balanced, since the Canadian number one would not be present again to defend his country: Félix Auger-Alissime chose the Laver Cup instead of the Davis Cup last September, and this time he apparently did not arrive physically well, so he had to watch his teammates at the side of the court.
But Canada likewise had a number one in Milos Raonic, although the 2016 Wimbledon finalist and former world number three played in match of the numbers two against Patrick Kaukovalta. The Finn is ranked No. 782 and had never played a match of that magnitude. Raonic was too much: he gave up just three points on his first serve in the match that confirmed his return to Team Canada after his last appearance in 2018. He closed with a flawless 6-3, 7-5.
Finlandia makes history in Davis Cup
Being 1-0 down for Finland in Tuesday’s quarterfinal tie, devoid of top 100 players, another barely known player emerged as the main protagonist. Otto Virtanen entered the court with the pressure of knowing that any failure would eliminate his team from the competition. However, he held on thanks to a fan base that never stopped cheering and encouraging. And the Finn played a very complete match that he closed in two sets (6-4, 7-5) to beat the Canadian Gabriel Diallo in the match that was supposed to be Aliassime-Ruusuvuori.
Although at first, it seemed that Harri Heliovaara would play with Patrik Niklas-Salminen in the doubles, Virtanen was the chosen one. His confidence was high.
The match started with the Finnish duo very connected in the match and soon took a 4-1 lead that the Canadian pair, formed by Vasek Pospisil and Alexis Galarneau, neutralized with a 4-4. However, in the twelfth game, the Finnish pair closed the set in their favor. Another break in the eighth game of the second set allowed Finland to pull off the upset to the delight of the Finns who filled the stands of the Martin Carpena Stadium.
“Every time I play with the Finland uniform, in front of these fans, it makes me play amazing. We are not in Finland, but I feel like we are there, everyone is having a great time. We are enjoying ourselves on and off the court. There is a little impact on my game to see how the fans react to what I do every point, it generates a lot of support,” said the hero Virtanen after his double.
Finland, which counted a quarterfinal finish as its best result in the competition, qualified for the semifinals thanks in part to a crowd that carried its players to achieve such a feat.
“I know that tennis is a little bit bigger today in Finland after what we have achieved. There are a lot of people who play tennis, but not so many people compete. We don’t have too many professional players, it’s a very popular sport as a hobby, but it’s not one of the more traditional sports. Now it is getting bigger and bigger, tennis is getting more and more attention. The Davis Cup team is getting more and more attention, and I’m sure more and more kids will play tennis after this, it will be seen more on TV, it helps to have idols like these,” said captain Jarkko Nieminen, on the Finnish bench since 2018 and a quarterfinalist as a player in 2022.