LONDON: Defending Davis Cup champions Canada made light of the absence of big names to cruise past Sweden for a second straight victory in the Finals group stage while the United States crashed to their first defeat on Thursday. A weakened Canada, already missing Felix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic, were dealt a blow with Denis Shapovalov still not ready for action due to a recent knee issue. However, Vasek Pospisil got them off to a good start by beating Leo Borg 7-6(5) 5-7 6-2. Gabriel Diallo, who played a big role in Canada’s stunning win over Italy on Wednesday by beating Lorenzo Musetti, helped them take an unassailable 2-0 lead over Sweden in the Group A tie in Bologna as he eased past Elias Ymer 6-4 6-3. Australia jump-started their bid to make the knockout rounds in Malaga in November, as the 2022 runners-up beat France 2-1 in Group B in Manchester. Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden prevailed 7-5 6-3 in their decisive doubles rubber against Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. In the Croatian city of Split, the Netherlands handed the United States their first defeat in Group D. Botic Van de Zandschulp edged a tight opening set against Tommy Paul before dismantling the world number 13 for a 7-6(2) 6-2 victory before Tallon Griekspoor dug deep to beat Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-7(7) 7-6(3). It was Tiafoe’s second straight defeat this week after the world number 11 had crashed against Croatia’s Borna Gojo. Over in Valencia, the Czech Republic backed up their Group C win over Spain by defeating South Korea, but all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic who could return to action for Serbia when they take on the hosts on Friday. World number one Djokovic, who won the U.S. Open last week before flying in for Davis Cup duty, defended the decision of Carlos Alcaraz to skip Spain’s group ties to recuperate following his semi-final defeat in New York.