It took over three hours of tough-it-out tennis but Canada’s Milos Raonic was finally able to eke out his first- ever victory in a five-set match in Davis Cup action on Friday in Toronto.
By defeating Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3), 9-7 on the Grandstand Court at the Rexall Centre, Raonic gave his country a stranglehold 2-0 lead in its Americas Zone Group I second round play-off.
Peter Polansky also beat Jhonson Garcia in the first match of the day 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Neither Dominican player went down easy. With the tiny Caribbean nation appearing in Group I for the first time in its Davis Cup history, both Estrella and Garcia played with a fierce determination to maintain that status.
The loser of the best-of-five matches tie will be relegated to Group II.
It was a see-saw match between Raonic and Estrella, two evenly matched opponents. The Dominican’s best tennis player is ranked 285th in the world, just 17 spots below the young Canadian.
The 19-year-old started off strongly, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first set before allowing Estrella back in it. The Santiago native did well to return the 6-foot-4 Canadian’s big serve.
Raonic faced two match points in the fourth before calmly and emphatically winning the tiebreaker.
The final set contained no service breaks until Raonic finally won the 15th game of the fifth to go up 8-7 and serve for the match.
It was over three hours in at that point, and Raonic, playing in his first-ever fifth set, says the moment took over and prevented him from surrendering to fatigue.
“You forget about the legs feeling tired,” he said. “You can sort of feel it when you play some points, but it passes quickly. As long as you start the point moving, it’s easier to keep your legs going underneath you.
“It’s just sort of a mental state that you don’t allow yourself to think about it.”
He did take a medical timeout after the fourth set to get his right forearm worked on. Raonic says he was feeling some tightness that wasn’t allowing him to snap on the serve like he wanted.
As the fifth set went deeper, captain Martin Laurendeau continued to offer encouragement and advice to his player from the sideline.
“The recurring theme was to keep him focused on what was going on in the present, and all the training he’s done … this is the fifth set of a Davis Cup match, and this is the time to get the emotions involved, and the guts, and to leave it all on the court basically,” Laurendeau said.
In the early match of the day, Polansky started Team Canada off in winning way. However, it was a tougher job than one might have expected.
In Garcia, the 22-year-old faced an unranked player.
Polansky, meanwhile, is currently ranked 176th in the world and came into the match off a successful U.S. Open campaign, in which he defeated world No. 32 Juan Monaco in the first round.
Garcia is a Davis Cup veteran though, and he fought hard and displayed a tricky game that forced Polansky into some troublesome spots.
“He was playing his junk game, giving me a lot of slices, a lot of high balls, really slow, and it’s tough for me to adapt to those,” Polansky said. “It wasn’t easy, especially because some of these balls we’re playing with are kind of soft, they’re not easy to manipulate and spin.”
Garcia also played well when coming into the net, getting the Canadian out of position before putting away easy volleys.
While the first two sets were tight, Polansky hit his stride in the third, where he started hitting much cleaner balls and pushed Garcia far behind the baseline. He says the problem before was he wasn’t assertive enough.
“I was kind of going into his game a bit and trying to make him miss, and he wasn’t doing anything,” he said.
“And I wasn’t being aggressive often enough so when I was I didn’t feel comfortable with it and I missed.”
Barring a line-up change by Laurendeau, Polansky and Raonic will both be in action again on Sunday.
But first, career golden slam holder Daniel Nestor, who watched his teammates win on Friday, will play doubles on Saturday. He and his partner Frank Dancevic could clinch the play-off with a victory.