Four stylish players will take to the court on Friday as the Davis Cup World Group opening round between Canada and Great Britain begins with two singles matches at the Arena at TD Place in Ottawa.
Maybe the most stylish, and fcertainly the youngest, is 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov from Richmond Hill, Ont.
The reigning Wimbledon Junior Boys champion plays a rambunctious type of game featuring a full-swing one-handed backhand. On Friday when he steps on the court, he will be facing another player with a single-hander, but on the right side, 26-year-old Dan Evans from Birmingham.
Evans is now at a career high No. 45 ranking and last month reached the final of the ATP event in Sydney before upsetting Marin Cilic on his way to the round-of-16 at the Australian Open.
He is definitely a big challenge for Shapovalov, who is playing his first ever best-of-five-set match. “I feel prepared, the whole team has got me ready for it,” the 6-foot left-hander said about drawing the first match at 3 p.m. (ET). “I wanted to play the first match and kind of set the tone for the team.
“I played Dan Evans almost a year ago now in Drummondville [Evans won 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in the National Bank Challenger semifinal]. I know his game a bit. It was a very tight match.”
Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau, who’s also Shapovalov’s coach outside of Davis Cup, views the Premier Court surface at TD Place as an asset.
“The surface here, the (Yonex) balls, and the playing conditions are very fast – so for any lefthander, including Daniel (Nestor), it’s a real advantage. They’re conditions made for most of the points to be played in under four of five shots. It’s not a surface where you’d expect to have long rallies and a lot of rhythm. It’s a surface where a lefthander can take a lot of risks. Denis’ game is very complete and he’s someone who’s flashy, you might say, and really lets his shots go. He’s plays very aggressively with his serve and plays points that disrupt his opponents. So we hope he’ll be able to take advantage of all that tomorrow.”
Shapovalov (watched by Laurendeau above) played his first and only Davis Cup match last September when Canada defeated Chile in Halifax and had the tie wrapped up on the second day. Shapovalov played on Sunday in the fourth match, with Canada already assured of victory, in the World Group Playoff. He defeated No. 260-ranked Christian Garin 7-6(3), 6-4.
“It definitely gave me some experience on that court,” Shapovalov said. “I think I’ll be a lot more comfortable and be able to play full out and show how good my game can be.”
Evans, a former ‘bad boy’ of British tennis who is finally doing justice to his talent, memorably held a match point against Stan Wawrinka in the third round of the 2016 US Open, an event that the powerful Swiss would go on to win.
“I played him in a Challenger in Drummondville (Quebec),” Evans said about Shapovalov. “It was a good match and he played pretty well and I actually won in three tight sets. He has quite a big game. He likes to be aggressive and dictate the play so I’ll have to try to get on top of him tomorrow rather than him being aggressive to me.”
British captain Leon Smith was asked if he was surprised by Laurendeau selecting a Davis Cup ‘live’ match rookie. “Whether they would play (Peter) Polansky or not,” he replied, “not really because Denis was named in the original team and Polansky was a replacement (for Milos Raonic) so you’d expect Marty (captain Laurendeau) to go with his original pick. I’ve done it before. I picked the guy to my right (then a 20-year-old Kyle Edmund) to play a Davis Cup final (vs. Belgium in 2015). So when they’re ready, they’re ready.”
With Shapovalov, ranked No. 234, playing Evans in the opener, that means Vasek Pospisil, facing Edmund in the second match, will have less time for the turnaround between his singles Friday and the doubles with him and Nestor slated to play Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray (above) at 1 p.m. on Saturday. “It gives Vasek a little less time to rest before his doubles,” Laurendeau noted, “but he’s done it before. Denis is a young guy who’s not scared and who likes playing in front of a big crowd. He likes to show his talent and everything he can. So it will be interesting to see Denis go first.”
As with Shapovalov and Evans, Pospisil and Edmund have played before – at the 2014 ATP 250 event in Chennai, India, with the 26-year-old from Vancouver prevailing 6-3, 7-5 in the opening round.
“I played him in Chennai three years ago,” Edmund said about Pospisil, “but so much has happened since then. He’s got more experience, I’ve got more experience. I wouldn’t look too much into that one. Davis Cup is different and it’s 0-0 on the day so you have to earn your win.”
Pospisil, who’s ranking dropped from No. 39 to No. 133 last year, is on a three-match losing skid in 2017 that started with a loss to Fernando Verdasco in Doha followed by a first-round qualifying loss to No. 192 Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus at the Australian Open and then a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 defeat by No. 193, 19-year-old Michael Mmoh of the U.S., at a Challenger in Maui, Hawaii, last week.
“It’s been a tough 12 months for sure,” Pospisil admitted. “It was a very complicated season for me last year and I feel like I’m getting my game back on the path right now. I know what my level is, I know where I belong. I’m just hoping the Davis Cup this weekend will be a springboard I can use as well and get that confidence and that groove back. I know that can happen at any moment because the level is there. I just have to be patient. Davis Cup does bring the best out of me, or tend to, a lot of times so I’m hoping that it’ll be the same this weekend.”
Captain Laurendeau is hoping the crowd, expected to be more than 6,000 spectators, at the Arena at TD Place will inspire his team. “On paper we’re underdogs,” he said. “They have the better rankings and hopefully the crowd recognizes that. They like to root for underdogs and they can get behind us and get our guys going. They’ll set the tone and the atmosphere that we need. Once you get into the weekend, the flow of emotions and the pride to play for your country, it usually raises everybody’s game.”
It all begins with Shapovalov facing Evans with Canadian supporters hoping that lightening strikes twice – or at least in a fashion similar to when Nestor upset then world No. 1 Stefan Edberg in Vancouver in February, 1992. Now playing his amazing 50th tie for his country, Nestor recalled about his mindset long ago at the PNE Agrodome, “just swinging away with nothing to lose and also playing in a very good setting of a home tie with very good crowd support.”
That sounds like the perfect scenario for Shapovalov, though two years younger now then Nestor was then, and for a positive Canadian start on Friday.
On Thursday late morning, there was a cross-over (above) of the two teams during practice at the Arena at TD Place – all in good spirits.
As for the British team members, they appear quietly confident – confident enough for captain Smith to make a joke when asked about chilly weather that saw the temperature dip to -16 early on Thursday.
Referring to himself and fellow Scot Jamie Murray, he replied, “I think the English guys are struggling, but us Scots we’re a bit harder so we’re okay.”
The most famous hockey player in Ottawa Senator history, 44-year-old Swede Daniel Alfredsson, dropped by the Canadian team’s practice on Thursday. He’s friends with Ottawa native and former ATP No. 69 (2012) Jesse Levine who hit with Daniel Nestor and company Thursday morning. Levine is part of Sportsnet’s broadcast team this weekend. Alfredsson (above with Martin Laurendeau) played 17 of his 18 seasons with the Senators. He recently became a Canadian citizen.
This has been a terrible week in Canada with the murdering of six people at a mosque in Quebec City. The flags on Parliament Hill (above) in Ottawa, and everywhere else in the city, have been lowered to half mast in tribute to those who lost their lives.