In the euphoric moments after the historic win – Canada advancing to the Davis Cup semi-final for the first time in the modern tennis era – Milos Raonic proclaimed at the top of his lungs: “We’re not done yet.”
Minutes later, amid the raucous on-court celebration, his Spanish-born personal coach, Galo Blanco – wearing Canada’s colours – had it in mind to douse his pupil with a champagne shower. Like a kid playing a schoolyard game, Raonic raced away from Blanco, a wild smile on his face, trying to elude capture.
It was like that all weekend too – Italy’s singles players chasing Raonic, but never quite catching up to his serve and his improving overall game.
Raonic put the finishing touches on one of the most important weekends in Canadian tennis history Sunday at the UBC’s Thunderbird Arena, squeezing out a four-set win over Italy’s Andreas Seppi to clinch the World Cup quarter-final by a 3-1 margin. By mutual consent, the meaningless fifth match – the so-called dead rubber – wasn’t played.
Raonic won the first two sets with relative ease, lost the third and then with the fourth set looking as though it were heading for a tiebreaker, managed to break Seppi in the 12th game to complete the four-set win. It went into the books as a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory for Raonic and sets up a semi-final date with Serbia, led by the world’s No. 1 player Novak Djokovic.
The Serbs booked their place in the semis with a victory over the United States and will play host to the tie in September, four days after the men’s U.S. Open final ends, with the surface – clay or possibly a slow hard court – still to be determined.
Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau oversaw a rags-to-riches rise for the Canadian team. In 2010, Canada won an American Zone Group 1 relegation tie, which they needed so as not to drop down to the de facto Davis Cup basement.
Since then, it has been onward and upward, largely because of Raonic’s play – he is 10-3 overall in singles competition – but because others have delivered key moments as well. Most notably this weekend, the doubles pair of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil won a thrilling five-set, 4-hour marathon over the Italian pair of Fabio Fognini and Daniele Bracciali on Saturday, giving Canada a 2-1 lead in the tie and leaving the matter in Raonic’s capable hands.
“I can’t even remember match point,” confessed Laurendeau afterward. “The ball went into the net, and I blanked out.”
Presumably that’s because Laurendeau remembered the three-year climb up the ladder, noting how: “Milos three years ago saved match point against a guy from the Dominican Republic in Toronto and now we’re in the final four. There are a lot of countries that are in this competition, over 100, so it’s an incredible honour.”
“I know a lot of players and staff have tried to get there. It’s always been a target – to get to the World Cup,” Laurendeau added. “Winning on the road is so difficult, so when you play at home, you’ve got to win. We won and basically all four guys won a point. We’ve got Pospisil and Raonic who are 22 years old. You look at the average age of players in the top-100 in the world, it’s probably pushing 27 or 28, so there are a lot of good years ahead. It’s been a long road, but what we’re going through right now, is great.”
Canada’s Serbian connections run deep. Nestor was born in Belgrade and came to Canada with his parents when he was 4. Raonic’s roots trace to Montenegro and so, while the semi-final tie will be played on the road against a powerhouse, there is always hope. Serbia’s top doubles player, Nenad Zimonjic, is also Nestor’s former partner – they won 22 ATP Tour titles together between 2007 and 2012.
“Stuff’s going to be easier there,” Raonic said. “It’s not like going to South America and nobody speaks Spanish. It’s going to be a comfortable situation for us – and for that reason, I think there’ll be more support and that’s a good thing. I look forward to playing there.”
Seppi had some difficulty handling Raonic’s serve early, but in time, got a better handle on it. Canada has the choice of surface and tailored it to the fact that both Raonic and Pospisil hit a heavy ball. Usually, teams playing Canada almost always choose to play on clay, but the Serbs may go in a different direction, because Raonic has had some success on clay in the past – and spends a part of each fall training on the surface with Blanco in Spain.
“In a tournament, you would never play on a surface like this,” Seppi said. “This was almost like playing on ice.”