Rising Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic has an easier opening Davis Cup draw but it's against an opponent he can't take lightly.
Raonic, ranked 29th in the world, will meet veteran Julien Benneteau, No. 35 on the ATP tour, in Friday's second singles match of the World Group tie against favoured France.
Benneteau was nominated by French captain Guy Forget ahead of 13th-ranked Gael Monfils who is with the French team but suffering from knee tendinitis.
“I was aware of the (injury) situation and also you have to be aware of Julien who's really had a great end of last year so he's really earned his mark on the team,” Raonic said on Thursday.
It's not likely to be an easy match for the Thornhill, Ont., resident who's coming off a win at the Airel Chennai Open in India this year and was voted last season's top ATP newcomer.
Benneteau triumphed 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-4 when they met in the first round of the Paris Masters last November.
But Raonic said his game that's built around a thundering serve has improved since then and he's not going to change it.
“I know what I need to do,” he said. “I'm fortunate enough to have a game where I try to dictate and I try to make my opponents adjust to me as much as possible, more so than myself to them.
“I've just got to go out there, focus on myself and stick to the things I need to do.”
Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil, Canada's other 21-year-old singles player, will face a formidable Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 6 in the world, in the opening match of the best-of-five tie.
Pospisil will join veteran Daniel Nestor, making his 40th Davis Cup appearance for Canada, in Saturday's doubles against Benneteau and Michael Llodra.
Toronto's Nestor is ranked third in the world in doubles while Llodra, who won a Tour stop with Benneteau in Toronto in 2010, is ranked fifth. The reverse singles will be played on Sunday.
The winner of the tie advances to the World Group quarter-finals against either the United States or Switzerland while the loser enters a relegation playoff.
Forget can still change Benneteau's selection on Friday but doubted Monfils, who limped in a loss to Tomas Berdych in Sunday's final of the Open Sud de France, could handle a long match.
“When you are two days away from playing a match that big and that long, you have to evaluate the chances of your players against someone like Milos who's a really dangerous and good player,” Forget said.
Benneteau said he is confident facing Raonic.
“He's one of the best servers on the Tour but I return well,” Benneteau said. “When I was very aggressive I gave him some problems and I will try to do that (Friday).”
Pospisil, who is ranked 115 in singles, isn't fazed by the prospect of facing Tsonga.
“I'll have my work cut out for me but I've been training hard all week and sharpening up so I'm ready and good to go,” he said.
Pospisil is a big reason why Canada advanced in a playoff to the World Group of 16 countries.
He won his two singles matches and teamed with Nestor in doubles in a 3-2 away victory over Israel last September.
The tie against France is being played in a hockey rink built on the University of British Columbia campus for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Canadians are looking for boisterous crowd support.
“You do get this atmosphere like in a hockey game which we really enjoy and the conditions are there for us to play our best tennis,” said Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau.
Upsets can happen in the Davis Cup, like when a 19-year-old Nestor, then ranked 238, scored a five-set singles victory over No. 1-ranked Stefan Edberg of Sweden here 20 years ago.
That gave Canada a 2-0 lead but Sweden went on to win 3-2.
The key against France, will be for Canada's youngsters to not worry about who's on the other side of the net, Nestor said.
“I don't think these guys need any special attention. They just need to relax, get away from it for the next 24 hours, relax their mind and be ready to play (Friday).”
Laurendeau said Pospisil and Raonic have everything to gain against the higher ranked French.
“You just have to go after them,” Laurendeau said. “The rankings are out the window in these situations and I feel, as a team, we believe in our chances.”
Notes: Canada is seeded 14th in the World Group, the French 4th ... it's Canada's first World Group appearance in seven years ... Forget won Davis Cup titles as a player in 1991 and 1996 ... as captain, he won a Cup over favoured Australia in 2001 and has lost finals to Russia (2002) and Serbia (2010) ... the last time Canada played France in Davis Cup was in 1966 ... France won 5-0 ... Nestor has 44 match wins in Davis Cup play.
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