Rising Canadian tennis prospect Vasek Pospisil is going to get a rare chance to face world-class competition in his home province.
Tennis Canada announced Tuesday that Vancouver will host the best-of-five Davis Cup tie in February when the men's squad takes on France.
“It's something that I don't come across very often,” said the 21-year-old Pospisil. “So it's something I can use to be a stepladder for me in front of a bigger crowd.”
The Canadian men advanced to the tennis world's elite 16 with a victory in Israel in September after ousting Mexico and Equador earlier in the year.
Speaking via video conferencing from an event in Champagne, Ill., Pospisil said he's looking forward to playing at the University of British Columbia after dealing with unruly fans in Israel, Mexico and Equador.
“It makes a huge difference to be playing in front of your home crowd and not have to fight the crowd,” said the native of Vernon, B.C. “This time, France will have to do that. It's going to be a huge advantage for us this time around.”
A victory against France in World Group play Feb. 10-12 will qualify Canada for the quarter-finals and ensure a return to this stage of the competition in 2013. If Canada loses, it will be forced to compete in a playoff round to avoid relegation to Americas Zone play and a longer road back to the top level.
The February series will be just the fourth time Canada has competed at the Davis Cup's top level. Canada is 0-3 in World Group play after appearances in 1991, 1994 and 2004.
Fourth-ranked France represents a stiff test for a young Canadian team that is led by 31st-ranked Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., the 119th-ranked Pospisil and fifth-ranked doubles ace Daniel Nestor of Toronto, who is also expected to play singles. The last time Davis Cup action was held in the Vancouver area was in 1992 when a 19-year-old Nestor upset world No. 1 Stefan Edberg in singles play.
Canada sports a 2-4 record in Vancouver and overall 4-5 mark in B.C. in Davis Cup play since 1956.
Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said the 2012 event brings back a lot of good memories and added Vancouver was the place to go because it will make conditions more difficult for the powerhouse French. Tennis Canada deliberately opted not to hold the event in Montreal because it didn't want the French players to feel comfortable in a cultural setting similar to their homeland.
“We know we can play some really good tennis here,” Laurendeau said. “Strategically-speaking, the French team will also face a lot of travelling. So it can be disruptive with their schedule and their top players. They don't really like to travel that much.”
Veteran Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., could also compete after opting out of the last two Davis Cup events in an effort to improve his world ranking, which now stands at No. 174. Philip Bester of North Vancouver, B.C., is ranked 350th and is also in the selection mix.
“We're playing at home, we're playing indoors, we've got everything in place for us to perform really well,” Laurendeau said.
France's team includes No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 12 Gilles Simon, No. 15 Gael Monfils and No. 19 Richard Gasquet. Meanwhile, Michael Llodra, the world's seventh-ranked doubles player and also a respectable 47th in singles, is also a key member of the squad.
The French and Canadians will meet for only the second time in Davis Cup play after a 34-year gap. Canada was pounded 5-0 by France back in 1966 on the clay courts at Roland Garros in Paris. This time, Canada got to choose the surface and opted for a hard court that will be laid down over concrete.
“It will be reasonably fast and high-bouncing for our big servers,” Laurendeau said. “Those are the conditions we were wishing to play with.”
The fast courts should also aid Nestor, who has proven himself to be adept on many surfaces. Laurendeau said the doubles competition will be “pivotal” because an International Tennis Federation statistic shows the two-man portion decides more than 80 per cent of Davis Cup ties.
“We're so very fortunate that we will be able to count on (Nestor) after so many years,” Laurendeau said. “He's always at the very highest of his calibre.”
Nestor's experience will help a Canadian contingent that is a clear underdog. The French have won the Davis Cup nine times, most recently in 2001. France narrowly missed out this year, losing 4-1 to Spain in the semifinals in September and also reached the Davis Cup final in 2010.
The UBC facility, normally a hockey arena which also served as a 2010 Winter Olympic and 2010 Paralympic venue, can seat 5,000 in a compact setting targeted by Tennis Canada officials as a means of accommodating a tightly-packed, boisterous pro-Canadian crowd.
“The team gave us the task to try and find a venue that would really fit the specs of the team and deliver a loud and vibrant atmosphere while still remaining intimate,” said Tennis Canada's Gavin Zin, the event's director. “And, we think we've found the perfect fit.”
Notes: Retired Davis Cup veteran Grant Connell will serve as the event's honorary chairman. ... The winner of the Canada-France tie will take on the winner of the U.S.-Switzerland matchup in April.