There's a lot riding on next month's tie with Japan for Martin Laurendeau and Canada's Davis Cup team.
Canada would advance to the World Group quarter-finals with a victory and also remain among tennis's elite in 2016. But a loss would force the Canadians to win a playoff tie in order to maintain their spot for next year.
Canada has been in the World Group the last four years — reaching the semifinals in 2013 — and captain Laurendeau says the team is no longer happy to just be there.
"When we qualified and played France (in '12) it was kind of an eye-opener," he said during a conference call. "We hadn't been in the World Group for eight years and even then we'd been there very briefly.
"Our players were young and you didn't have that strong feeling that we belonged like we do now. Everything is there for us to have a great year this year."
Canada will host Japan in a best-of-five tie March 6-8 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver. The event will open with two singles matches, followed by a doubles contest the following day. Play will conclude with two reverse singles contests.
Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., ranked No. 6 in the world, again anchors Canada's team. He'll be joined by Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil (No,. 63 in singles, No. 15 in doubles), Frank Dancevic (No. 163) of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Toronto's Daniel Nestor (No. 4 in doubles). Vancouver's Filip Peliwo and Toronto's Adil Shamasdin will also make the trip.
U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori, ranked fifth in the world, is Japan's top player. Also on the squad are Go Soeda (No. 83), Tatsuma Ito (No. 91) and Yasutaka Uchiyama (No. 282).
While a victory would ensure Canada remain in the World Group in 2016, Laurendeau said the team has much loftier aspirations.
"We want to win this competition eventually," he said. "We want to do better than our semifinal berth of a couple of years ago and we've got the players to do it.
"It (tie with Japan) means a ton. We want to secure our place for next year."
Laurendeau feels Canada will have an edge in overall experience. Both Raonic and Pospisil will participate in their 11th tie while Dancevic has been a Davis Cup regular since '02 and secured the Canadian squad's lone point in its first-round loss to Japan last February — both Raonic and Pospisil were hurt and didn't play — with a victory over Soeda.
The win over Canada marked the first time Japan had advanced past the World Group first round. But with Nishikori injured, the Japanese squad lost its quarter-final match 5-0 to the Czech Republic.
But there's no other player in the tie who can match Nestor's longevity. The 23-year Davis Cup veteran holds the Canadian team records for wins (46), doubles victories (31), and most ties played (47).
Nestor, 42, is also third all-time with 86 career doubles wins.
"There's two top-10 guys (Raonic-Nishikori) so there's going to be a lot of talk around those two giants," Laurendeau said. "But usually you need more than one guy to win a whole weekend.
"We have a lot more depth than they do."
There's also the matter of Raonic being on an eight-match home win streak in Davis Cup, including winning both of his singles matches in Canada's World Group playoff against Colombia last September. The hard court also plays to the powerful Raonic's strength.
"It's Milos's favourite court," Laurendeau said. "These conditions suit him well.
"We're all aware of what Kei can do in singles and doubles and we're going to have our hands full with that one guy alone, let alone the whole team."
Canada is the seeded team with a Davis Cup world ranking of No. 9 while Japan is ranked No. 12.
"We definitely know from recent experience how dangerous an opponent Japan can be," Laurendeau said. "But unlike last year we're at home with a healthy team, and back in familiar confines where we have had a lot of recent success.
"So, we feel confident and will be ready to go out there and fight for a win."