Photo Credit: Tennis Canada – Kyle Clapham

Canada and Japan first met in Davis Cup in the summer of 1923 on a grass court at the Mount Royal Tennis Club in Montreal. They played on four more occasions between then and 1939, and all were wins for the Japanese whose best players were expert under-spinners/angled chop-shot artists.

There was a 75-year gap until the most recent meeting, a 4-1 win led by the sweet-stroking Kei Nishikori – definitely not a slicer and dicer – at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo last February.

But that was really not a fair fight as Canada’s top two players, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, were both injured and unavailable.

On Friday, when Raonic takes on Tatsuma Ito in the first match and Nishikori follows against Pospisil in the second, it should be a straight-up affair with both sides represented by their best players.

That 6-0 Japanese head-to-head advantage has now largely disappeared into the vapours of passing generations, with last year’s loss by the visiting Canadian team in Tokyo a one-off situation where the visitors had to field its B-team.


Thursday’s draw ceremony was held at the picturesque Cecil Green Park House at the University of British Columbia, about a five minute drive across UBC’s supremely spacious campus from the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre where Davis Cup will be staged for the fourth time since 2012.

Any speculation that there might be a substitution for Vasek Pospisil in the first day’s singles – to allow him to be better prepared for the doubles on Saturday and a possibly decisive fifth match on Sunday – was put to rest when captain Laurendeau’s singles players were announced as being him and Milos Raonic by referee Wayne McKewen.

“Vasek is healthy, he’s played good tennis this year and he’s put himself in the position to play Davis Cup for Canada, to play No. 2 singles,” Laurendeau said. “His body is fine, he’s confident and he’s playing well. We go in with our top guys.”

Pospisil, ranked No. 62, will be playing Nishikori for the first time. The usually mild-mannered 24-year-old definitely had an edge as he spoke about taking on the world No. 4, not hiding that he was somewhat offended by any idea he should rest and not play the opening singles.

“I know I’m going to have my hands full, I’m definitely the underdog,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. I’m not going to lie to myself or anybody. At the same time, I do think that I can win. I’ve had Top 5 wins before, so I think I can definitely go out there and beat him. It’s going to be a tough ask but I can do it.”


The suggestion that Pospisil should be held out of Friday’s singles did not sit well with Josef Brabenec Sr. of Vancouver, Canada’s Davis Cup captain from 1978-84 and a member of the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame. Brabenec (pictured here with current captain Laurendeau) believes there’s a 30 per cent chance Pospisil can win, and that it’s worth any risk involved to have him play.

The Raonic – Ito match-up is no real surprise, even if Go Soeda, ranked one spot lower than his compatriot at No. 86, played second singles (losing to Frank Dancevic) when Japan defeated Canada a year ago.

“There’s not a big reason why I chose Ito,” Japanese captain Minoru Ueda explained. “But the court surface is a little quicker and I think Ito will be better for the quicker surface. That’s my decision for the singles on the first day.”

There seemed to be a slight intimation in the latter remark that Soeda could possibility be substituted in for the fifth match.


The idea that the court is fairly speedy seemed pretty obvious when Raonic began his practice set with Pospisil (above) on Thursday by promptly pounding down four aces in the very first game.

Not surprisingly, there were remarkably few rallies, most points ending in three or fewer shots.

There was good-natured humour between Canada’s two best players during the workout. Raonic and his coach Ivan Ljubicic had to dry off some wet spots along the baseline from Pospisil’s prodigious perspiration when they changed to his side of the court. From the opposite end, Pospisil joked, “by the time that dries, I’ll be nice and wet and go over there.”


The players ended their session with a handshake at the net and that was their last serious time on court before Friday’s singles.

There’s an idea that it would have been better to have Pospisil play first on Friday in order to give him more rest for Saturday’s doubles. But actually, since Raonic is a strong favourite over Ito, it’s probably better for him to get a chance to put a win on the board. That would place the pressure squarely on Nishikori to beat Pospisil and avoid putting his team in a desperate 0-2 situation playing away on the road.

On the subject of feeling at home, during their media conference on Friday, Yasutaka Uchiyama got a laugh from the Japanese media when he said that one of the things he liked best about Vancouver is that there is a Starbucks on just about every corner.

Among the Canadians, there has always been a tradition winding down with a little soccer/tennis after a practice – and Raonic and Ljubicic teamed to play Davis Cup coach Guillaume Marx and Raonic’s fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola on Friday.


It was a fun diversion for all involved.

A little later in the day, there was a much younger competitor, if that is the proper term, on the court.


Before the Japanese team practice, Michael Chang, Nishikori’s coach, provided some chuckles for stragglers hanging out in the stadium. He tossed balls to his four-year-old daughter Lani – and she showed some pretty impressive form as can be seen in the picture here.

After four days of both teams working out, getting used to the atmosphere in the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, the players are ready for the main event.

At stake in this weekend’s opening round will be a spot in the second round – an away tie against the winner of a first round this weekend in Liege, Belgium between the hosts and defending champion Switzerland. But the Swiss team, without Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka, features a nondescript line-up of Yann Marti (No. 292), Adrien Bossel (No. 321), Henri Laaksonen (No. 344) and Michael Lammer (No. 576).

The Belgians were strong favourites until their top player, No. 21-ranked David Goffin, pulled out of the opening singles with a back issue. Still, with No. 102 Steve Darcis, No. 132 Ruben Bemelmens, and home court advantage, the Belgians remain the pick.

While Federer and Wawrinka are exhibiting an ambivalence about Davis Cup, No. 1 Canadian Raonic seems more dedicated than ever. “I’m here because I want to be here,” he said Friday. “I don’t have anybody telling me that I need to be here. I have the desire to be here. I want to succeed at this event and I want to succeed at helping Canada.”


Most of the hype about this weekend’s tie centres on the No. 6-ranked Raonic and No. 4 Nishikori and their meeting on Sunday. That was the hot topic on Friday after the draw was made, which also included Daniel Nestor and Pospisil being named for the Saturday doubles against Japanese Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama.

Captain Laurendeau knows all too much can happen before the Raonic-Nishikori match-up in the first match on Sunday. “There are three matches before Milos would play Kei,” he said, “so the important thing is to have the lead going into that match – win at least two of the three if not all three.

“We have confidence in our team in the sense that all the guys are healthy and all have played well since the beginning of the year.

“Davis Cup is a month later this year so they’ve all played more matches. They come in here in good form and to a place where we’ve played well in the past. And in front of supporters who will back us and who we have confidence in to help us play our best tennis and make it difficult for the Japanese. The conditions here are excellent, so it’s up to us that take advantage of that.”

The last word goes to Nestor, 42 and embarking on his 48th Davis Cup tie. “This is best team we’ve ever had, the best two players we’ve ever had,” he declared Friday. “It’s one of the reasons I keep playing – for the opportunity to win the Davis Cup.”

Vancouver Post Card


This lonely tugboat is chugging across English Bay toward the Pacific Ocean.