Tennis Elbow: Now’s the time

April 8, 2013 · Print This Article

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon ponders the most recent Davis Cup tie for Canada.

Milos Raonic doesn’t care much for history, and that’s what he said after his win over Italian Andreas Seppi this past Sunday to clinch the Davis Cup tie for Canada—but even he understands that it’s now or never.

In Canada, tennis has always lagged behind many other sports, at the bottom of the sports food chain that is dominated by hockey, hockey, and more hockey. This could be about to change.

We’ve said all along that all tennis needs in Canada is for some recognition, some successes on the international stage. Once that happens, once Canadians can say that they belong on the biggest of stages along with the powers that are Spain, the USA or Serbia, then maybe, just maybe, tennis could have itself a following.

This is such an opportunity. Unfortunately, the significance of a Davis Cup title would probably be lost for most Canadians—it’s not a coincidence that there were a lot of Team Canada hockey jerseys in the stands of the UBC campus arena. If doubles tennis doesn’t cut it anymore, imagine what it’s like for team tennis.

Of course, a Davis Cup title is far from a guarantee at this point. Canada is one of four remaining countries still in line for the title after defeating Italy 3-1 in the quarterfinals, but is clearly the underdog.

How did this happen?

First, the Canadians survived the World Group playoffs by defeating South Africa last September. Up next was a tie against the favourite Spain, which Canada won 3-2. Then came the win over the Italians.

Along the way, Canada has enjoyed plenty of luck. South Africa decided not to host the tie, then its two best players, Kevin Anderson and Rick de Voest, sustained injuries. Canada should have been chopped liver for the Spaniards, except that Spain sent its “B” team to Vancouver. Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau said, “Muchas gracias,” moved on and prepared his team for the tie against Italy.

This weekend, Canada, then the No. 8-ranked nation in the world, was technically the favourite against the No. 9 Italy. Not only that, but Canada was once again playing host while Italy was robbed of its best doubles pairing after Simon Bolelli withdrew due to injury.

Bolelli and Fabio Fognini are among the best doubles teams in the world, but now 35-year-old Daniele Bracciali had to step in. He was far from a liability, as Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor needed all of four hours and 37 minutes and a 15-13 fifth set to get the win. Wait, I thought these marathon matches only happened in singles?

In this Team Canada, Milos Raonic is the clear superstar and the one workhorse. For the team to have any realistic chance at advancing, Raonic is always the one who must deliver. But the country really is well on its way. Beyond Raonic, there’s a solid doubles team in the duo of Pospisil and Nestor.

The one thing the team is lacking, yes, is depth. Nestor is 40 years old, and it would be good if Canada could find him a suitable replacement for every Davis Cup doubles rubber. Meanwhile, Pospisil is a little too inconsistent as his loss against Seppi can attest, where he lost a two-sets-to-love lead. But he’ll come around—he’s only 22.

And now, there are four countries remaining. Serbia. Argentina. The Czech Republic. And Canada, which will be matched up against Novak Djokovic’s Serbia in September. The odds may be stacked against the Canadians once more, but they could win. It’s not by being content with a semifinal berth that the country will ever arrive. Raonic knows it. It’s now or never.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

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