This weekend’s Davis Cup World Group Playoff at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum was a little too close for comfort for the Canadian team after Friday’s 1-1 split of the opening singles matches.
A 7-5, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 win by Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil over Rohan Bopanna and Purav Raja in Saturday’s doubles has put captain Martin Laurendeau and his squad into a more comfortable position.
Heading into the doubles, the match-up had a few unknowns such as how would Pospisil’s back, which basically kept him out of singles and doubles at the US Open as well as the opening singles in Edmonton, react? Also would Nestor be sharp after a string of five consecutive tour losses and how would Raja play in only his second ever Davis Cup match – and his first since 2013.
The good news for Canada was that both Pospisil and Nestor were on their games and Raja, paired with the highest-ranking doubles player on the court – No. 19 Bopanna – clearly was the weak link. No question that the 31-year-old had a nice touch with his volleys around the net but his serve was the major liability for the Indian team. He was broken in five of his eleven service games and, once in each of the first three sets, he double-faulted on the game-deciding point.
“Bopanna has got one of the best serve in tennis when he’s on,” Nestor said after the match. “He gave us a few doubles but he’s got a massive serve. Raja was obviously a little bit tight today on his serve and the speed was down quite a bit.”
The opening set of the match was decided by a single break in the final game – on four points ending with a Raja double fault.
Right off the top in the second, things got a little goofy as each player proceeded to lose his serve, making the score 2-2 before Pospisil was able to hold to 15 – finishing with one of his team’s 10 aces on the day.
Players on both teams struggled to explain the four consecutive breaks, which actually became five if Raja losing his serve in the final game of the first set is included.
“Four breaks,” said a thoughtful Bopanna when asked about the chances of that happening, “not very often, especially with the deuce/ad format. With the no-ad format (used on the ATP tour) it happens. But not at all in this format.”
Summing up the match from his team’s side of the net, Nestor said, “it was a close and we were just fortunate to get ahead early. They fought hard but we came through in the end.”
Analysing the match from the visitors’ perspective, Indian captain Mahesh Bhupathi remarked, “I think there were two x-factors in this match – one was Danny (Nestor) and one was Purav (Raja). We knew the longer the match went that Danny was tiring a bit but he’s played 50 Davis Cup matches and that’s why at 5-all, 30-all in the second set he served an ace. And when he served at 4-3 in the fourth set he was able to pull off those two points at 30-all. That’s because he’s that good.”
The match lasted two hours and 52 minutes and the 45-year-old Nestor had moments of inspiration that recalled the time he spent 110 weeks at No. 1 on the ATP’s doubles rankings computer. He returned well, dispatched loose balls at the net authority and hit timely serves even if he did have five double faults.
“I’ve played okay this year but not at a great level,” Nestor said giving a candid assessment of his form. “Things have changed for sure but I’m happy to get a win today and help out the team which is the most important thing.”
His 32nd Davis Cup doubles victory in his 51st tie was meaningful to the man sometimes known as ‘chief’ by members of the Canadian team and support group. “It’s special because I wasn’t sure about coming and Marty (Laurendeau) invited me,” he said. “He told me I could have a shorter week because I just felt burnt out from the summer. But once I got here I was thankful that I came. I didn’t want to sit back and watch and not be part of it.”
Nestor had lost three of his last four Davis Cup doubles matches (one of them not with Pospisil). “I don’t feel that I’ve helped the team the last couple of years as much as maybe before that,” he said. “Hopefully I can play a few more matches and help out – that’s my goal.”
There were a couple of odd moments during the match – the first occurred in the second set with Raja serving in the fourth game – the fourth of the previously-mentioned four service breaks in a row. Raja hit a volley near the net and umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore awarded the game-winning point to Nestor and Pospisil because she believed Raja had contacted the ball on his opponent’s side of the net.
That ruling was much to the consternation of – left to right above – Raja, Bopanna and Bhupathi who protested vehemently to Asderaki-Moore.
Also, in the seventh game of the third set, Nestor was given a penalty for a time violation and, because there had been a previous offense, he lost his first serve and then proceeded to double fault on his only serve to give the Indians a 4-3 lead in the fourth set. Pospisil was upset and he and Laurendeau had a heated discussion courtside near the umpire’s chair with Asderaki.
Following the match, Bhupathi discussed both situations.
“As far as the racquet on our side of the net,” he said, “I think we checked Hawk-Eye and nobody was able to tell if it was clearly across or not. Over-rules happen when there’s a certainty to it and there was no certainty. So to make a call especially at that stage of the match was, for me, not acceptable.
“As far as Danny (time violation), we all know he takes a lot of time so I was putting pressure on the umpires. I guess I kept putting on pressure and we got the call.”
Nestor had a reaction to the two situations that many who know him as the original sports junkie would have expected. “It’s like the NHL playoffs,” he said, “one team gets the call and then the next team gets the call. It seems like they even themselves out.”
It’s easy to forget Pospisil (above embracing his parents courtside after the win) in all the exploits of Nestor, a player who television commentator Robbie Koenig likes to refer to as “recession-proof Daniel Nestor.”
But Pospisil was near the top of his doubles game and he had a possible explanation related to him knowing all week he would not be playing singles on the opening day but would be alongside Nestor for Saturday’s doubles.
“Most Davis Cup ties it’s always been ‘singles Friday, singles Friday’ and in my mind I never really committed to the doubles practices,” he said. “I was always thinking my next match is singles. It changes a lot when you do that. I think today was one of my better performances in Davis Cup because I didn’t have that match on Friday. It was a good move in terms of the match today.”
The Canadian team is now concentrating on Sunday’s singles with Denis Shapovalov slated to meet No. 154-ranked Ramkumar Ramanathan in the possible tie-clinching match at 1 p.m. (3 p.m. ET).
Referring to Shapovalov’s five-set victory over Yuki Bhambri on Friday, Laurendeau said, “Denis pulled out that win so that gives you wings and you feel a bit better even though you might be beat up. It’s a good feeling to win a five-set match, especially his first one.”
Looking at his team and a possible fifth match – either Brayden Schnur or Pospisil against Bhambri – he said, “with the state of the guys, our approach to this whole tie was to go through one practice at a time, especially Vasek with his (back) condition.
“They all have a lot of rehab to do and we’ll see how everybody feels. We have one more match to win and right now the focus is on Denis because he’s first up and then we’ll just evaluate. We’ve got a medical team here that’s on top of things. We’ll get their feedback, get the players feedback and just try to make the right call. But right now there’s no call – Denis is going in first thing.
Bhupathi confirmed that it will be Ramanathan and Bhambri for his team on Sunday – with Canada aiming for a win and a seventh consecutive year of World Group play in 2018, while India hopes to win two matches and get back to the elite 16 nations after a six-year absence.
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This sidewalk sculpture has been sitting right across from Edmonton’s City Hall since 1983. It was created by J. Seward Johnson Jr.