With some uncertainty about exactly how Davis Cup will work in 2019 with its new format, the main take-away from Canada’s 3-1 victory over the Netherlands in a World Group Playoff this weekend is that it has maintained a World Group position for the eighth consecutive year.
Over the first 30 years of World Group competition, Canada spent a grand total of three years (1991-92 and 2004) among the elite 16 nations.
Back in those days it was almost unthinkable that it would someday be resident for such an extended period of time. So Milos Raonic’s tie-clinching 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4 win over Scott Griekspoor at the Coca-Cola Coliseum on Sunday was an emphatic exclamation point on a remarkable run of success.
As a result of the win, Canada is guaranteed a seeded position for the playoffs next February, right after the Australian Open, when 24 countries will play for 12 spots in the new year-end Davis Cup grand finale to be held in Europe. There will be 18 nations that make it to the single-site 2019 wind-up competition for the salad bowl donated by American student Dwight Davis in 1900. The field will be made up of the four semi-finalists from this year, two wild cards and the 12 winners of next February’s ties.
The picture will become much clearer on September 26th when the draw is conducted for the February ties. Losing captain Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands has been joking all week that his country, despite losing, will still qualify as one of next six highest-ranked countries from the Davis Cup Europe/Africa zone. It’s currently No. 18 in the rankings compared to Canada at No. 14 – and the latter likely to be higher in Monday’s new rankings.
Haarhuis suggested again on Sunday – tongue in cheek – that the Dutch team has arranged to draw the Canadians and, because of the home-and-away alternating format, will play them at home.
It’s never easy to bring a completely new system to a competition that goes back so long, but it would seem that this past weekend’s World Group Playoff ties would have had more to play for had the winners been guaranteed a home date next February.
As it is Canada’s fate, and those of the other 23 teams in the running for next year’s finals, will be determined by that draw in 10 days.
Clearly being seeded will help in terms of the strength of opponents. But hypothetically, if Canada drew Uzbekistan or Bosnia-Herzegovina away February 2-3, 2019, that would not be convenient for players right after a trip to the antipodes for the Australia Open.
Tennis Canada vice-president for high-performance athlete development, Louis Borfiga, seemed in the dark as are many others when he spoke about Raonic’s win over Griekspoor on Sunday.
“Milos came through again and brought home the final point for Canada,” he said. “It’s not the first time. He’s a great leader who’s always been present at important moments. Once again he’s kept Canada in the World Group.”
Asked about the upcoming draw for next year, Borfiga replied, “next year is a new competition so you don’t know with the new format how the players will react. We’ll see – it a big question mark.”
In the here and now, Raonic played a solid match Sunday versus Griekspoor, a last-minute substitute for No. 1 Dutch player Robin Haase who re-aggravated a longstanding knee injury early in his five-set loss to Denis Shapovalov on Friday.
Raonic, following his sixth tie-clinching Davis Cup win, downplayed the challenge of facing someone he didn’t know much about. “It’s not so much the notice,” he said about adapting, “if it had been a lefthander I would have prepared and warmed up differently. It’s more not knowing. Felix played him in the final of a Challenger (losing in Blois, France in June) and he had a bit of info. But obviously that was on clay so it was a little bit different. We sort of just watched a quick YouTube video (of Griekspoor) in the 40 minutes we had and noticed what you could notice. I didn’t really pay much attention to that – I tried to figure things out at the start of the match.”
His start wasn’t the greatest and he was broken in the fourth game but broke back immediately before eventually winning the set in the tiebreak – with the lone mini-break coming when Griekspoor misfired a forehand serving at 3-4.
The second and third sets went according to the form of a No. 20-ranked Raonic, 27, facing a 27-year-old Davis Cup rookie ranked 224.
“I thought he played well,” Raonic said about Griekspoor. “He didn’t have anything to lose but there are the stresses of Davis Cup – especially it being his first match and trying to keep the tie alive. I thought he stepped up and played with a lot of courage. He was doing a lot of things well.”
So Raonic and the other members of Team Canada must wait 10 days to learn against whom and where they will play in Davis Cup ‘19.
“It’s going to be something different,” said captain Frank Dancevic. “It’s going to be interesting. I think it’s going to have to be played out to see how it works.”
In the meantime, Denis Shapovalov is flying Sunday night to London on his way to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the ATP 250 St. Petersburg Open. He shouldn’t feel too out of place there because he speaks the language.
Seeded No. 7, he plays a qualifier in the first round.
Raonic is likely to rest at home in Toronto for a few days.
As for the retiring Daniel Nestor, he may be pouring orange juice Monday morning for his daughters Tiana and Bianca as they head off to school and then making grilled cheese sandwiches later when they return home.
But don’t expect him to put down his racquet for too long – he just loves hitting tennis balls and horsing around on the court too much to do that.
Daniel Nestor was inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame on Sunday. The duties were handled by HOF chairman Robert Bettauer on the court before the Raonic – Griekspoor fourth match of the Canada–Netherlands Davis Cup tie.
A video of Nestor’s career – with testimonials from illustrious tennis people such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray – was shown in the Coca-Cola Coliseum.
The inductee made a speech thanking all those who had helped him in a professional career that has lasted more than 25 years. His wife Natasha and daughters Tiana and Bianca joined him on court at the end of the ceremony.
The Canadian Davis Cup team gave 18-year-old rookie Felix Auger-Aliassime his initiation Sunday on the court after the Raonic-Griekspoor match. It was not quite as daunting as Raonic dancing on court between matches to “Y-M-C-A” during a Davis Cup tie against Colombia in Calgary in 2010 or Filip Peliwo running screaming on the beach toward the North Sea in Ostend, Belgium in 2015. Auger-Aliassime only had to hit a few balls back-and-forth with Daniel Nestor – wearing only his boxer shorts.
Some Canadian officials were disappointed that Auger-Aliassime didn’t get a chance to play what would have been an exhibition match in place of the fifth match after Raonic had clinched the tie. But the Netherlands team would have had to agree and they didn’t.
Earlier, captain Frank Dancevic talked about the No. 136-ranked Montrealer’s experience this past week. “It was his first time and Felix just got a feel for how Davis Cup is,” said Dancevic, 33, “in the locker room with us, being at the practices with us, getting to know all the guys a little better. It’s really important for him because he’s the future of Canadian tennis and he’s going to be part of the team for a decade to come. So I think he had a great week – it’s unfortunate he couldn’t get out there today even if it was a dead rubber (inconsequential) match but there’s always going to be another opportunity in the future so we’re looking forward to having him on the team.”
Toronto’s City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Vilgo Revell and opened in 1965. It features two curved towers and a circular structure below them (in background here) that houses the Council Chambers.
The Cameron House is a local haunt adorned with cockroaches on its outer walls. Here’s random review of the Queen Street West bar: “I would recommend this place for a chill night if you’re in the mood for cheap drinks and live music.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)