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Raonic, Nestor set to lead Davis Cup team's clash with France

Canada's Milos Raonic hits a return to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship, in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012.

Andrew Brownbill/The Associated Press/Andrew Brownbill/The Associated Press

For Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau, the best part of picking the team that will take on France in World Group play is having all his best players fit and ready to go.

Laurendeau named what he called the five best players in the country to his squad on Tuesday, starting with Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., ranked 28th in the world.

Also on the team are 120th-ranked Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver, No. 159 Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Daniel Nestor of Toronto, the world's third-ranked doubles player. Peter Polansky of Thornhill was named as the fifth member, to play if needed.

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Last year, Canada qualified for the World Group by winning three ties — all on the road — despite a rash of injuries and having Dancevic take a year off to concentrate on tournament play. Raonic missed time with a hip injury.

"Last year, every time we had one or two guys injured," said Laurendeau. "Daniel missed the first one in Mexico with an Achilles problem. Frank wasn't around, Peter strained his groin, (Philip) Bester broke his hand in July.

"That's not the case now. Everyone's healthy, everyone's feeling good."

The 5,000-seat Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver is sold out for all three days of the Feb. 10-12 tie as Canada takes on one of the sport's world powers.

The French team has world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 13 Gael Monfils, No. 36 Julien Benneteau as well as Michael Llodra, ranked fifth in doubles.

Canada beat Mexico, Ecuador and Israel on the road last year to advance to the World Group for the first time in eight years.

"We feel good about the challenge," said Laurendeau. "It's fun to go into a tie playing at home.

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"It's a great experience for us to play in the World Group. It's kind of like a singles player playing one of the seeded players at a Grand Slam. Of course you're technically the underdog, but it also elevates your game and forces you to play your best tennis. Hopefully that's what we'll do."

Playing at home means setting the rules, and Canada will give itself its best chance by playing indoors on a fast surface.

The 21-year-old Raonic and 39-year-old Nestor are Canada's top hopes for an upset.

The hard-serving Raonic won his first tournament of the year in Chennai, India for his second career ATP Tour title, but was knocked out in the third round of the Australian Open by veteran Lleyton Hewitt.

Nestor also won his first tournament at Brisbane with partner Max Mirnyi and reached the semifinals at the year's first Grand Slam event.

Dancevic, who has been ranked as high as 65th, is 11-3 in Davis Cup matches played on home soil. Pospisil was the only Canadian to play in all three ties last year, winning both singles matches and teaming with Nestor to take the doubles match against Israel to put Canada into the World Group.

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"We still have great feelings from winning three tight series on the road last season, under tough circumstances, so we're excited to keep it going," added Laurendeau. "As difficult as it's going to be, it'll be exciting."

He has yet to decide on Nestor's partner in the doubles.

The French won't be put off by fast courts and they bring plenty of experience in big matches.

"Most French guys can play on any surface and they hold their own in doubles as well," said Laurendeau. "Whoever is lined up, it's going to be difficult for matchups.

"But there's no one any of our guys are afraid to play. You look to go out and beat the guys who are ahead of you. That's what will keep us motivated."

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