Everything seems to be falling into place for Canada’s Davis Cup team as it attempts to return to the biggest stage in world tennis.
Canada will field a healthy, dangerous team when it hosts South Africa in a World Group playoff later this month, and the good news doesn’t stop there.
Not only will the tie be in the friendly confines of Montreal’s Uniprix Stadium after South Africa forfeited its right to host, world No. 34 Kevin Anderson has said he will not make the trip to Canada.
Canada announced its team for the five-game series the goes Sept. 14-16 on Tuesday, and it’s one of the most talented the nation has fielded. World No. 16 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., and doubles ace Daniel Nestor of Toronto will be joined by Davis Cup veteran Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil, who teamed up with Nestor at the London Olympics.
“As far as star power, its probably the best team, the most intimidating team,” team captain Martin Laurendeau said in a conference call Tuesday. “I don’t know of anyone who can sleep well the night before playing Milos Raonic so we’ve just got to bank on that and keep going forward.”
Raonic was ill with food poisoning the last time Canada was in this situation in a playoff in Israel a year ago, but Pospisil stepped up and won two singles matches and a doubles match with Nestor to put Canada through.
Canada will not have the same problems this time. South Africa declined to host this September’s playoff for financial reasons, allowing the Canadians to take the battle to the familiar hardcourt of Uniprix stadium. The timing works out well for big-serving Raonic, who advanced to the fourth round of the hardcourt-based U.S. Open before losing to third-seed Andy Murray on Monday.
“For us, with all the players playing on the hardcourts this summer and following the U.S. Open it was just a natural decision for us to stick with the same conditions, court speed and everything,” Laurendeau said.
“The South Africans traditionally play like Canadians. They’re aggressive baseline players or guys with serves or that can volley ... but I just think we have more depth, better players, and in the end playing at home under the conditions which suit us will pay off.”
Without Anderson, South Africa will field a team consisting of Izak Van Der Merwe, Rik De Voest, Raven Klaasen and Nikala Scholtz. De Voest is the highest-ranked player on the squad at 177th in the world.
While that appears to be and extremely favourable matchup for Canada, Laurendeau cautioned against overconfidence.
“Davis Cup is not to be taken lightly,” he said. “They’re three (matches) out of five, there’s a lot of pressure, tension, emotions.
“I remember one time we played in Haiti, and they didn’t have that many guys who were star players, and I think (former Davis Cup player Andrew) Sznajder won 7-5 in the fifth set of the fifth game. That’s Davis Cup for you.”
And Canada can’t afford any complacency. A loss would relegate Canada back to zone play, which Laurendeau said would set the national program back considerably.
“Going back to Group 1, we’d have to spend the following year trying to get back to the situation that we’re in. So we’re at least one year behind,” he said. “And then we’re playing possibly away ties on clay courts against teams that are pretty nasty to play.
“I mean the World Group is the aim of the whole organization. We really want to stay in the position that we’re in and it’s not in our plans to go backwards.”
Laurendeau said Canada has another advantage in the upcoming tie in Nestor, a doubles specialist who has won every Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal over his career.
“He’s just a living legend,” Laurendeau said of Nestor, who turned 40 on Tuesday. “In the 21 or 22 years he’s been on the tour he’s been at every single Davis Cup tie, whether it’s World Group, Group 1 relegation, wherever we were. In South America, Central America, he would be there and he’s the first one to want to play Davis Cup.
“To have him still play Davis Cup with that same hunger and drive when he’s 40 years old and he’s already won everything on the planet is a great bonus for us.”
Canada has won the only other Davis Cup encounter between the two teams, almost a century ago in 1913.