Things didn’t look good for Vasek Pospisil at the juncture pictured here in his match against Britain’s Daniel Evans last Sunday. But he turned things around and earned a 7-6(3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5) victory in an encounter between respective No. 1s when Canada played Great Britain in Davis Cup World Group action in Ottawa.
A grand total of 21,482 spectators attended the three days at the Arena at TD Place, providing enthusiastic, sustained support for the Canadian team, with a high of 7,497 on Sunday. “They were behind us from the first strike of the ball on Friday,” said captain Martin Laurendeau. “They raised Vasek’s level and it’s exactly what he needed.”
It was also an exemplary crowd, respectful during points and between serves but loudly partisan as Davis Cup crowds are when they get behind their teams.
The high point of the weekend, in terms of both drama and quality of tennis, was Pospisil’s victory over Evans while the low point was the accidental beaning of umpire Arnaud Gabas of France by Denis Shapovalov that ended the fifth and deciding match. That 6-3, 6-4, 2-1 def. result for Kyle Edmund gave Britain a 3-2 win and a spot in April’s World Group quarter-finals against France.
News of the Shapovalov incident quickly spread around the tennis world and Laurendeau, who is his coach as well as captain of the Canadian Davis Cup team, put matters in perspective noting, “it wasn’t a planned event. It’s just a lesson he will take from this and he’ll move forward.”
On Monday, Shapovalov was fined a total of $7000 (US), $5000 less than the maximum possible because of his immediate apology and the unintentional nature of the act.
“The codes are out there and it’s up to the officials to implement abuse of ball, abuse of racquet,” said Laurendeau. “There’s a gray line where you can smack a ball between two linesmen and, if you don’t hit anyone, you’re okay and can continue. But if you hit a leg or an arm, it’s an automatic default. This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played in and, of all the space in cubic footage, the ball found its way into the umpire’s eye. It’s unfortunate that it happened. You can’t deny that. Hopefully this makes Denis a stronger person – a better player but also a better person. He’s already a great kid.”
Any time a Davis Cup team loses and there were options to have used other players – in this case No. 128-ranked veteran Peter Polansky instead of No. 234 Shapovalov – there will be questions.
Laurendeau was direct in explaining why he opted for the 17-year-old left-handed Shapovalov instead of Polansky. “We came in with a game plan,” he said. “We selected our guys that played the best on this surface and we went with them. The tie went into the fifth match, so there’s no regrets. Our biggest odds for winning were for Vasek to play the level that he displayed, which he hadn’t done in a while but to hope he could do it this weekend, and win the doubles. [Daniel Nestor and Pospisil were beaten 7-6(1), 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-3 by Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray in Saturday’s doubles.]
“We went in with guys that would play in a way that suited this (extremely fast) court. Having a leftie on this surface is an advantage and Denis’ serve, when it’s on, can be a tremendous weapon. He likes to move forward, knock off some volleys and take it to guys. That’s the type of tennis you need to play on these courts.
“Having lost the doubles, we needed to win three out of four singles. That’s always a tough ask for any team, especially when you play top-50 players. We went in with a tactic and we came up short.”
The team also went in minus its most potent weapon, world No. 4-ranked Milos Raonic. “We were missing some experience with Milos and Frank (Dancevic) being out with injuries but it didn’t stop us from preparing with the guys,” said Laurendeau.
Looking to the future, specifically the World Group Playoffs from September 15-17, the Canadian team probably cannot count on Raonic a week after the US Open. He has now missed the past four ties, and the past three ties that have immediately followed a Grand Slam event (Australian Open ’17, US Open ’16 and Wimbledon ’15).
It was interesting to note that Shapovalov’s fellow junior boys Grand Slam singles winner – 16-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime from Montreal – was also in Ottawa. He lost Saturday in the semifinals of a Futures tournament Palm Coast, Fla., and started out in the stands on Sunday. Near the end of the Pospisil – Evans first set he could be seen leaning down and greeting his good buddy Shapovalov near the Team Canada bench. Soon he was on the bench in a team jacket supporting his compatriots.
On the other side of the arena, with his wife Niki, was an ultra-shorn veteran Frank Dancevic (32 years old and 24 ties played), almost un-recognizable without his russet-hued locks.
Both saw a superb performance by Pospisil, who has become the heart and soul of the Canadian team. Two points from going down a double-break in the opening set against Evans, he came back to win it and eventually the second and take a 3-1 lead in the third. But then he lost seven games in a row and it looked like the leg and back issues that he admitted had hampered him in the doubles loss on Saturday might be catching up with him.
But the swoon soon ended and he came back to finish off the match in three hours and 23 minutes, part of his eight hours and 39 minutes on court over the three days.
Pospisil now has to build on his Davis Cup heroics and try to move his current No. 131 ranking back into the top-100 for an assault on the top-50 where many believe he belongs.
He’s in the draw at a Challenger tournament in San Francisco this week and plays No. 158-ranked Marco Trungelliti of Argentina on Tuesday night. He will then play ATP events in Delray Beach and Indian Wells. He has 95 of his current 438 ranking points to defend between now and the end of the Miami Open in late March.
Pospisil’s revival, with his two wins over top-50 players (Evans No. 45 and Edmund No. 47), was the Canadian story of last weekend’s tie.
As for the World Group Playoffs in September and the opportunity to remain in the elite 16-nation World Group for a seventh consecutive year, Canadian captain Laurendeau was non-committal about who might be on the team. “You’ve got to go with the situation a week or two before and just see who’s available and the conditions of play,” he said. “We could play indoors, we could play on clay somewhere, who knows. Here we went with these guys, the next tie it could be different guys.”
It hard to imagine Pospisil not being one of “these guys” again after the grit he showed in winning his two singles matches. He has become the team’s de facto leader – even if Raonic returns – as young blood, in the persons of Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, appears on the cusp of entering the picture as the next generation of Davis Cuppers.
Here are brief looks at last weekend’s other World Group ties:
Belgium def. Germany 3-1: With David Goffin absent, Steve Darcis (above on right with Filip Peliwo), ranked No. 58, shocks both No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber and No. 22 Alexander Zverev in Frankfurt. Guess Denis Shapovalov doesn’t feel so bad about losing 6-0, 7-6(4) to the crafty 32-year-old Belgian in the quarters of the Canberra (Australia) Challenger last month.
USA def. Switzerland 3-0: No Wawrinka, no Federer, no chance for the Swiss against an American team featuring its top-four players at home in Birmingham.
Spain def. Croatia 3-2: Playing away in Osijek, Bautista Agut and Carreno Busta restore order on the final day against the Cilic-less Croats to keep hopes alive that Rafa could play future ties.
Serbia def. Russia 3-0: At home in Nis with a still iffy Novak, the Serbs manage to beat the Russians, who currently do not have a top-50 player.
France def. Japan 3-0: In Tokyo with no Kei is not okay for the host Japanese.
Italy def. Argentina 3-2: Sad to see the 2016 champions, without Juan Martin del Potro and Federico Delbonis, already gone. But anytime fickle Fabio Fognini can rally from two-sets down in the fifth match (vs. Guido Pella), it’s gotta be fabulous.
Australia def. Czech Republic 3-0: No Berdych, no Stepanek, no hope for the Czechs in Melbourne against Kyrgios-led Aussies on hard court at Kooyong.
These two schoolgirls used their friendship to keep warm in frigid weather in downtown Ottawa last week.