The Canadian Davis Cup team achieved its desired goal in Halifax last weekend, defeating the visiting Chilean team 5-0 to protect its spot in the World Group.
There were many positives out of the three-day tie including Vasek Pospisil scoring a singles victory as well as combining with Adil Shamasdin for a clinching win in doubles.
Also Frank Dancevic scoring a timely opening-match win and Denis Shapovalov making his Davis Cup debut in a fourth match that didn’t affect the final outcome but did introduce him to Davis Cup and playing for his country as well as personal pride.
The fact that Shapovalov had trouble sleeping the night before his match against No. 260-ranked Christian Garin showed just how much it meant to him.
Few would doubt that in just a few years Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., and his Montreal co-hort Félix Auger-Aliassime will be key elements in Canada’s Davis Cup ambitions.
On the negative ledger were the absences of Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor, two players who have been crucial to Canada now being in the position to maintain its spot in the World Group for a sixth year running. Although Nestor, with an injured left calf, did show up for the week to help out and boost team morale with his wit and wisdom.
The fact that de facto team leader Pospisil and other singles players Dancevic and Shapovalov – as well as practice partner Jack Mingjie Lin from Newmarket, Ont., – were so compatible augurs well for the future of captain Martin Laurendeau’s squad.
Canada’s Davis Cup team has a strong support group that includes coach Guillaume Marx (above with Pospisil during practice last week) and physio Stéphane Lamy, Dr. Nicolas Sauvé, masseur Jeff Ludovici, stringer Yvon Gilbert, manager Alain Beaupré and tournament director Gavin Ziv.
Now the Canadian team waits until noon (7:00 a.m. ET) on Thursday at the International Tennis Federation’s headquarters in London for the 2017 World Group draw to see who it will play (and where) in the first round and potentially in rounds going forward after that.
So the 2016 World Group playoff was a success – although facing Chile at home was tailor-made for a good result considering that nation’s preference for slow, clay-court surfaces and not the super-slick indoor hard court installed at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre.
With an age spectrum stretching all the way from the 44-year-old Nestor to still not age-of-majority 17-year-olds Shapovalov and Mingjie Lin (above), there was a fun feeling around the team that has created considerable optimism going forward.
Unseeded among the Top 16 nations, Canada enters Thursday’s draw for the 2017 World Group knowing it would face Argentina, Belgium, France or Serbia at home and that it’s a 50-50 draw as to whether it will play at home or away against Czech Republic, Croatia, Great Britain or Switzerland. With the first-round tie being held from February 3-5, it’s important to keep in mind that’s just five days after the men’s final at the Australian Open.
Because the simplest trip from Down Under (direct flight from Sydney) would be to Vancouver, that city would seem to be the early favourite to hold the tie if Canada is hosting. But there are many factors to take into consideration – availability of facilities, the option of playing at altitude in a place like Calgary, player schedules following the tie and ease (or ill ease) of access for the Canadian and visiting teams.
Here’s a rating – with 1 being the best 4 being the worst – of what Canada can hope for in Thursday’s draw. This is made extremely complicated by trying to anticipate who will play for Canada (Raonic being the key) and for the opposing nations, either because of the date being so close to the Australian Open or because of a player opting to miss that particular round of the competition. Unlike some other years, there don’t appear to be any “gimme’s” among the World Group possibilities for Canada.
SERBIA: This is based on the fact that the top guys like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have either been disinclined to play Davis Cup, or to pick their spots. It doesn’t seem like Serbian star Djokovic, who has been in (and won) the Australian Open final five of the past six years, will be eager to stop off in Canada on his way home from the Aussie Open. Still, players like Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic and Dusan Lajovic are not pushovers.
ARGENTINA: Leonardo Mayer pulled off a shocker win over Brit Dan Evans in the fifth and deciding match of their World Group semifinal in Glasgow on Sunday after Juan Martin del Potro was not fit enough to play. Who knows if ‘JMDP’ will want to participate in the opening round in 2017 right after the Australian Open. He’s a bit of a homebody and would probably prefer to spend time with loved ones in sunny Tandil rather than north of the 49th parallel in chilly Canada. Still Mayer and Guido Pella are ‘ballplayers’ and not to be underestimated after both won singles matches on indoor hard court on the weekend against Britain’s No. 2 singles players.
BELGIUM: This is one country where one senses that the full complement of players would show up led by No. 14-ranked David Goffin. He has Steve Darcis and Ruben Bemelmens as sidekicks. While they aren’t as intimidating as other potential opponents, since they reached the 2015 Davis Cup final the event become more of a priority for the Belgians and Belgian players.
FRANCE: Although they were beaten by Croatia on the weekend in the World Group semifinals without Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, there’s still a lot of depth and versatility on the French roster. It’s hard to imagine captain Yannick Noah not bringing a very competitive team to Canada if that is the way Thursday’s draw works out.
SWITZERLAND: Based largely on the fact that Roger Federer is almost certain not to play and Stan Wawrinka is also doubtful right after the Australian Open and after not playing any ties at all in 2016, the Swiss would be beatable. Playing away in Uzbekistan, No. 138 Henri Laaksonen, 24, and No. 503 Antoine Bellier, 19, led them to victory over the weekend. The caveat here is that if the tie is in Switzerland, Wawrinka is more likely to be available.
GREAT BRITAIN: This is a tricky one but, as has happened so many times over the years with top players, it would not be surprising to see Andy Murray skip Davis Cup in 2017, or at least the first round. (Note: Both he and Djokovic missed the Britain-Serbia quarter-final played right after Wimbledon in July.) Murray did his “duty to God and the Queen” in 2015 by winning Davis Cup, and maybe even more so by trying to defend it in 2016. But he has to look at the bigger picture as have Federer, Djokovic and Nadal as they’ve aged. The guess is Murray, hurting again physically after playing three matches in the loss to Argentina on the weekend, won’t make himself available. Of course, as with Wawrinka, a tie in the cozy confines of home could make him more inclined to suit up. But similar to Djokovic, he has been in five Aussie Open finals in the last seven years and playing five days after another possible final appearance at Melbourne Park may not be very tempting for the muscles and ligaments of his body. Alternates Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans, with Jamie Murray in doubles, would still make things interesting.
CZECH REPUBLIC: These days a now 31-year-old Tomas Berdych is more concerned with pacing himself and prolonging his career. He has only showed up for one of his country’s last four ties and would be unlikely to play if the February tie is in Canada, and just slightly less so if it’s in his homeland. Still with a combination of Jiri Vesely, Lukas Rosol and ageless Radek Stepanek the Czechs would still be “sneaky good” and dangerous.
CROATIA: As with Belgium, there’s a strong likelihood that Croatia, after either winning this year’s Davis Cup final at home or finishing as runner-up, fields a solid team that includes Marin Cilic, Borna Coric and the dogged Ivan Dodig. Croatia would be super tough at home and only slightly less of a challenge if the tie were held in Canada.
This lively and colourful mural on George Street in downtown Halifax did not exist when the Canadian team was there in 2014. It was created in 2015.