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Finland stuns defending champion Canada to reach semifinals of Davis Cup in Spain

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MALAGA, Spain (鶹ýapp) — Feeling at home, Finland upset defending champion Canada to reach the semifinals of the Davis Cup for the first time on Tuesday.

Otto Virtanen and Harri Heliovaara defeated Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil 7-5, 6-3 in the decisive doubles match to give the 14th-ranked Finns the victory over No. 1 Canada in the first of the quarterfinals in southern Spain.

Virtanen had kept Finland alive by defeating Gabriel Diallo 6-4, 7-5 in the second singles match after Milos Raonic had given Canada the first point with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Patrick Kaukovalta.

Finland was backed by some 3,000 thousands Finnish fans at the Martin Carpena arena in Malaga.

“We are not in Finland but we feel like we are in Finland,” Virtanen said. “I love the pressure of playing in front of these fans, it just makes me play better every time, all the support I get. It means everything to play for my country. Today was amazing.”

Fuengirola, a town about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Malaga, is home to the second largest community of Finns outside Finland, and 14 busloads of fans made the trip. They joined more than 1,000 fans who came from Finland, according to local organizers.

Finland is the first Scandinavian nation to reach the Davis Cup semifinals since Sweden in 2007.

Finland’s best performances before this year were three appearances in the APCup playoffs — the last in 2002. Canada won its first Davis Cup title last year, defeating Australia in the final in Malaga.

“This is why we play tennis,” Heliovaara said. “Today was definitely one of the highest days of my career in terms of emotions. We knew beforehand there was going to be a big Finnish supporter group, but you never know how good it’s going to feel until you actually experience that on court. The emotions are something that I can cherish for the rest of my life.”

The No. 1 player for both countries were out injured — Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime with a lower body issue and Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori with a shoulder ailment.

Raonic, the former No. 3 in the world, started with four aces and never allowed Kaukovalta to get into the opening match. The 32-year-old Raonic, who hadn’t played for Canada in five years, lost just one point on serve in the opening set and three in the entire match.

Finland evened the tie when the 22-year-old Virtanen broke serve once in each set against Diallo.

In the doubles, Finland broke serve to go up 5-3 in the second set and then closed out the match and tie. Heliovaara said he and Virtanen had never played practiced doubles together.

“We went through the signs and through the tactics just 15 minutes before the match,” Heliovaara said. “But that’s sometimes what works the best. Let it happen. No expectations. Just do your best. Be a good teammate. We did exactly that.”

Australia will play the Czech Republic in another quarterfinal on Wednesday, with the winner taking on Finland. On Thursday, it will be Italy against the Netherlands and Great Britain against Novak Djokovic’s Serbia.

The semifinals will be played both on Friday and Saturday, with the winner being crowned on Sunday.

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APTennis: /hub/tennis