There they sat, shoulder to shoulder at a news conference, the five members of a Davis Cup tennis team many are calling the best Canada has assembled.
Dressed in matching red jackets and grey pants, the players smiled, cracked jokes and nudged one other boyishly as they shimmied chairs initially placed a little too close together for their broad shoulders and long legs. Aside from being the most talented Canadian Davis Cup team to date, this collection of men may also be the most intriguing.
World No. 20 Milos Raonic will play in the event for the first time since 2015, healthy and fresh off a run to the fourth round at the U.S. Open. Chosen as Canada’s top singles player for this event, the 6-foot-5 Torontonian will open the best-of-five tie against the Netherlands on Friday afternoon at Coca-Cola Coliseum on Toronto’s Exhibition grounds. It is Raonic’s first meeting with world No. 236 Thiemo de Bakker.
The country’s other well-recognized tennis-playing Toronto native takes the court immediately afterward – No. 34 Denis Shapovalov. The backward-hat-wearing 19-year-old gets a rematch with the player who eliminated him from the Rogers Cup in August, No. 44 Robin Haase.
Saturday’s doubles match will pit Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil against Jean-Julien Rojer and Matwe Middelkoop. After playing his jaw-dropping 53rd Davis Cup tie this weekend at home in Toronto, 46-year-old Nestor will retire from tennis.
On Sunday, Shapovalov will play de Bakker and Raonic will play Haase. Budding star Félix Auger-Aliassime, 18, got his first Davis Cup invitation and will be on the squad this weekend to soak up the experience.
“It’s exciting. We’ve got two young guys here who weren’t here last time I played, who have been doing well over the past 18 months or so,” Raonic said. “We’re excited that it’s here in downtown Toronto as well.”
Auger-Aliassime, now world No. 136, said he’s medically cleared to play if needed. Two weeks ago, the youngster retired from a highly anticipated match with his close friend Shapovalov at the U.S. Open in New York after grimacing and clutching his chest during play.
“It’s not dangerous to my health,” said Auger-Aliassime when asked Thursday. “It’s unfortunate it had to end that way in New York against Denis, but that’s behind us now and I’ll get more investigation in the off-season, but it’s not the moment to speak about that.”
Canada’s Davis Cup team will compete in Toronto for the first time since 2010, when it defeated the Dominican Republic in zonal action at York University’s Aviva Centre, the home of the Rogers Cup, well north of the city’s downtown.
This tie – consisting of best-of-five-set matches – will take place indoors despite the summer-like temperatures in the city. The matches will be on a hard court inside the stadium formerly known as Ricoh Coliseum, best known as home to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Marlies.
The locale will offer the event a downtown vibe. The CN Tower can be seen from the Exhibition grounds, it’s one GO Train stop west of Union Station, and Toronto FC fans will be filling nearby Liberty Village pubs on Saturday in advance of their evening home match just steps away from Coca-Cola Coliseum at BMO Field.
The winner of the tie will earn a spot in the 16-team World Group in 2019. The loser is relegated to Zonal Group 1. Canada has competed in the World Group for six successive years – the country’s best run in Davis Cup competition. In that stretch, Canada made the semi-final in 2013 and quarter-final in 2015.
Canada, ranked 14th in the world, is favoured over the 18th-ranked Netherlands.