There are a number of factors that Martin Laurendeau must consider before a decision is made on the Canadian roster for Davis Cup play.
For next month’s World Group tie against Spain, a few extra variables are in play.
Laurendeau has a few weeks left to weigh his roster options ahead of the first-round matchup in Vancouver. Making things different for the longtime Canadian captain is the possibility that Jesse Levine could be in the mix and the opposition may not have its top player.
Levine, an Ottawa native who moved to the United States when he was 13, has petitioned the International Tennis Federation to represent Canada. It’s unlikely that he will get approval in time for the Spain tie, but it’s a possibility.
In addition, the status of world No. 4 Rafael Nadal is uncertain. The Spaniard announced last week that he probably won’t play again for about two months, saying he needs time to recover from a stomach virus.
Nadal, who missed several months last season due to knee problems, now hopes to return at Acapulco on Feb. 27. However, he did not rule out playing at an earlier tournament if his recovery went well.
Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., is Canada’s top singles threat and will have his hands full with Spain’s deep lineup with or without Nadal. Toronto’s Daniel Nestor is the Canadian doubles anchor and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver rounds out the team’s core.
“Our main task basically is to have a healthy team and to have all our players as sharp as they can (be) that early in the season, which is a difficult thing to do,” Laurendeau said from Australia. “To play a Grand Slam and a Davis Cup within the first month of the year is a tough assignment. It’s a tough start. You want all your guys healthy.”
The fourth roster spot could go to youngster Filip Peliwo of North Vancouver, Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., or Levine, if he gets approval.
“It’s that time of the year where things can go slowly and we haven’t heard back from the ITF,” Laurendeau said of Levine’s status. “It’s going to be cutting it short I think. There’s an outside chance that he might be eligible but I think it’s more of a longshot.”
At No. 104, Levine would be Canada’s second-ranked player behind Raonic (No. 13). Pospisil has the No. 125 spot, Dancevic is at No. 165 and Polansky has the No. 180 position. Peliwo, meanwhile, was named ITF junior world champion last year.
Laurendeau said whether Levine is selected or not, the 25-year-old southpaw is planning to be in Vancouver for training purposes and support. Levine reached a career-high ranking of No. 69 last January and has had success in singles and doubles.
“He can volley, he’s got the feel, he can drop, he’s got good hands,” Laurendeau said. “Given the chance, he can hold his own and do his share of damage playing doubles. It’s not at the top of his priorities but given the chance he can take on most of the teams out there.”
Canada is hoping the indoor courts at UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre will provide an advantage against the top-ranked Spaniards, who are most dominant on clay. Anchored by world No. 5 David Ferrer, Spain has several top-flight players and will present a stiff challenge in the best-of-five tie.
“From our end, we don’t have the same depth as Spain but our top players can hold their own against any of their guys,” Laurendeau said.
Spain dropped a 3-2 decision to the Czech Republic in the 2012 final, a loss that prevented the Spaniards from claiming a sixth Davis Cup crown. Canada maintained its spot in the World Group with a 4-1 victory over South Africa last September in Montreal.
The hard-serving Raonic has shown that he can hang with anyone on tour, especially on an indoor synthetic hardcourt. If he can pull out a couple of singles victories and Canada can add a point in doubles or in the other singles matches, the host side will have a shot.
The roster must be named 10 days before the start of the Feb. 1-3 tie but up to two player changes can be made after that. For his lineup, Laurendeau must consider previous head-to-head matchups, big-match experience and health and fitness.
“As far as I’m concerned the No. 1 thing is to have everyone playing, everyone healthy and then we’ll select (the lineup) accordingly depending on who’s showing the best form that early in the season,” Laurendeau said.
Injuries have been a problem for the Canadians over the last few years.
Polansky and Dancevic have had some injury issues and Raonic had to bow out of a key Davis Cup match last February against France due to a knee problem that did not prove to be serious.
It’s also unclear who might be the best fit to play with Nestor, who has been a dominant force on the doubles circuit for years. Laurendeau has said Nestor’s partner will be whoever is playing the best at the time.
“That’s where his experience comes into play,” Laurendeau said of the doubles veteran. “The ideal scenario is to play with the same guy every match of the year but come Olympics and Davis Cup that’s difficult to do.
“He’s important to the team because of his experience and his ability to play with whoever is thrown out there with him.”
The tie will begin with two singles matches on the Friday of Davis Cup week. The doubles match goes Saturday and reverse singles are set for Sunday.
“Doubles on Saturday is always an important point and we’ve lost the last couple of points on Saturday, the last two times that we played,” Laurendeau said. “We’ve really got to address that, the fact that if we want to beat Spain, we’re going to have to come out with a win on Saturday this time around for sure.”
Raonic’s performance will be particularly critical for the 12th-ranked Canadian side at the 6,500-seat venue.
“He’s a guy that trains really hard in the off-season and it’s not a coincidence that he’s done well early in the season the last two years,” Laurendeau said. “And if we want to beat Spain, we’ll need him to do it a third year in a row.
“We need Milos to be at the top of his game.”