Canada became the first team to make the semi-finals of the new Davis Cup on Thursday as they clinched a tense and decisive doubles rubber to defeat Australia in Madrid.
Nick Kyrgios had declared Australia capable of winning the tournament earlier this week but he played no part against Canada, perhaps due to injury, and his country crashed out in the quarters.
Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150th in the world, was the star of the show as he beat John Millman 7-6 (9/7) 6-4 in the singles and then formed a winning team with Denis Shapovalov in the doubles, the pair beating Jordan Thompson and John Peers 6-4, 6-4.
In between, Alex de Minaur had given Australia hope of a comeback as he battled from a set down to outlast Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
“We just went out there and from the first point, we were just going maximum intensity, energy, focus,” Pospisil said. “Denis and I played extremely well. I think we clicked perfectly.”
A first victory in 10 meetings with Australia means Canada will face either Serbia and Novak Djokovic or Russia in the last four on Saturday, for a place in Sunday’s final.
“We’re just playing really well,” added Pospisil. “We’re in form.”
Serbia and Russia will face off on Friday morning before the other two last-eight ties featuring Great Britain against Germany and Spain versus Argentina.
Britain rested Andy Murray and squeezed out of Group E earlier on Thursday after winning an all-or-nothing doubles rubber to beat Kazakhstan.
The British team knew defeat would ensure an early exit just as France, the tournament’s top seeds, had already crashed out a few hours before at the hands of Serbia and Djokovic.
It made the gamble to leave Murray out of the singles all the more bold, even if the Scot appears to be struggling for fitness after his lengthy duel with Holland’s Tallon Griekspoor on Wednesday.
Instead, the three-time grand slam champion was cheering from the side as Kyle Edmund played brilliantly to see off Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3 before Dan Evans was beaten 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 by Alexander Bublik to leave the tie in the balance.
But Jamie Murray and his partner Neal Skupski, making his Davis Cup debut, held their nerve to prevail 6-1, 6-4 over Bublik and Kukushkin, who might have felt the strain after returning to the court following their singles.
“It was obvious that Andy wasn’t at his best on court yesterday,” said British captain Leon Smith. “It’s tough to recover from that as well and when you’ve got someone like Kyle as an option, for me it was obvious to go and use him in that situation.”
Djokovic booked Serbia’s place in the quarters as he eased past Benoit Paire to send France home.
The 16-time major champion beat Paire 6-3, 6-3 after Filip Krajinovic won a close encounter 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to give Serbia a 2-0 advantage, making France’s doubles victory irrelevant.
“This was the ideal scenario for us,” said Djokovic. “Winning both singles and not being really pressured by the doubles. Russia are definitely one of the best teams here. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Joining Serbia in the last eight were Germany, who secured the one rubber they needed against Chile as Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-3 in the singles.
Serbia will play Russia on Friday at an earlier time of 0930GMT while Spain’s match against Argentina and Britain’s against Germany will begin at 1630GMT after organisers brought forward both sessions by half an hour.
One of the problems of this week’s new format at the Caja Magica has been longer ties running on into the early hours of the morning.
Italy’s last doubles match against the United States on Wednesday night finished at 4.04 local time on Thursday, making it the second latest finish in top-level tennis history.