The Canadian men’s tennis team will have its strongest squad ever at the Davis Cup later this month.
After Milos Raonic lost to Andy Murray at the U.S. Open on Monday night, his focus has turned to leading Canada against the South African men’s team in an important playoff tiebreaker on Sept. 14-16 at Montreal.
Canada has a mix of young and old featuring 21-year-old Raonic and 40-year-old doubles guru Daniel Nestor who began his professional career before Raonic was born.
The team is rounded out with veteran Frank Dancevic and Nestor’s Olympic teammate Vasek Pospisil.
“As far as star power, its probably the best team, the most intimidating team,” Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said in a conference call Tuesday. “I don’t know of anyone who can sleep well the night before playing Milos Raonic so we’ve just got to bank on that and keep going forward.”
Raonic played last year’s Davis Cup in Israel with food poisoning, withdrawing after the singles.
Now, with South Africa declining to host the event Canada will get to play on the hard court in Montreal, their favourite surface.
“For us, with all the players playing on the hard courts this summer and following the U.S. Open it was just a natural decision for us to stick with the same conditions, court speed and everything,” Laurendeau said.
South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who is ranked 34th in the world, has surprisingly chosen not to play in the tournament, leaving his country with a significantly with a significantly depleted roster.
“This is a bonus situation for us,” Laurendeau said, on the subject of hosting the event. “It was almost surreal.
“Historically these situations only occur when there’s a place that’s had something like an earthquake or civil unrest or it’s just not safe to play a tie anymore. But in this case, it was very, very unusual.
“Now, as a bonus, we don’t have to face a guy that’s ranked 25 or something like that and a very, very good player.”
Canada is considered the favourite with Raonic on the team and with Anderson sitting out the match up but they aren’t going to look past this game.
“Davis Cup is not to be taken lightly,” said Laurendeau. “We’ll be ready for anything that unfolds but we definitely feel very confident going in,”
The highest-ranked South African on the competing team will be Rik De Voest, who is ranked 173rd in the world. The other players will be Izak Van Der Merwe, Raven Klaasen and Nikala Scholtz.
“The South Africans traditionally play like Canadians. They’re aggressive baseline players or guys with serves or that can volley … but I just think we have more depth, better players, and in the end playing at home under the conditions which suit us will pay off.”
The importance of this match up can’t be overstated as Canada is on the precipice of becoming an upper-tiered tennis nation and the winning team in this match up moves onto the world group stage whereas the losing team will be relegated to zone play.
“We’re aware that going back down to group one would set us back a couple of years, basically, so we want to avoid that at all costs,” Laurendeau said. “Going back to group one, we would have to spend the following year to get back to the position we are in now.
“So we would be at least one year behind. The world group is the entire aim of the organization.”