Chilean Davis Cup captain Nicolas Massu has elected to go with a pair of 20-year-olds in Friday’s opening singles of the Davis Cup World Group play-off against Canada in Halifax.
Martin Laurendeau, Canada’s captain, has countered with two well-seasoned competitors – 26-year-old Vasek Pospisil and 31-year-old Frank Dancevic.
“When you’ve known the players for a long time and they have an even level and similar rankings and similar experience,” explained Massu about his choice of No. 260 Christian Garin and No. 423 Nicolas Jarry over 23-year-old Gonzalo Lama ranked higher at No. 177, “it’s important to see the players’ results before (the tie). But also what you see in the practice. Of course it’s a tough decision but I’m here for that. I decided that Nico (Jarry) and Christian play good on hard courts – on carpet in this situation. But Gonzalo can also play good here and he’s a good alternate if I need him for Sunday.
“Nico is very tall and has a very good serve and he used to practice a lot in Miami on hard court and his game is important on these kinds of surfaces. Christian in the juniors and on this surface also had good results.”
On paper, Jarry and Garin (third and fourth from left above) are no match for the No. 120-ranked Posposil and No. 236-ranked Dancevic. Pospisil has played in the singles main draws of 18 Grand Slam events while Dancevic has played in 19. Neither Garin or Jarry has played in a single Grand Slam main draw – Garin losing once (Roland Garros ’15) in the first round of qualifying and Jarry four times – in the first round of qualifying at each of the Grand Slams in 2015.
At the ATP level, Garin is 1-4 on hard courts while Jarry has never won a hard court match on the ATP World Tour.
When Laurendeau was asked if he was surprised Lama, 4-0 in Davis Cup (on clay) play in 2016, was not selected, he said, “we’re ready for any player we have to take care of. There are conditions of play that really affect a line-up and Nicolas Massu is a great player and he knows the game so he chose to go with those guys.”
At the draw ceremony Thursday at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, referee Wayne McKewen of Australia above shows that Dancevic’s name was drawn first meaning he will play the opening match against the No. 1 Chilean, Garin. So it’s Pospisil against the 6-foot-6 Jarry in the second match. There are no head-to-head meetings between any of the four singles players.
The doubles on Saturday will have more familiar faces as Pospisil and Adil Shamasdin hook up to play Hans Podlipnik-Castillo and Jarry.
“We have three players that have good results in the past like Hans (Podlipnik-Castillo) who only two months ago decided to play only doubles on the tour and he’s like 60 (65) in the rankings,” said captain Massu. “And Nico had very good results, he won the Pan American Games last summer in Toronto with Hans. And they beat the Colombian team (Robert) Farah) and (Juan Sebastian) Cabal in Davis Cup (in July) – and the Colombians are close to (ranked) Top 10. They make a good team and I was in Toronto when they won the Pan American Games and they beat the Colombian team also. For me it was easier to decide who is playing the doubles than the singles.”
Pospisil and Shamasdin have not played since 2009 when they joined forces at four Futures events and won two titles in Mexico in May of that year.
Offering an overall view of his team, Laurendeau said, “we have some great experience in Vasek and Frank…and (34-year-old) Adil as well, who’s not a spring chicken.” The latter remark got a laugh from everyone present at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame ceremony.
Laurendeau continued, “we’ve got a spring chicken in Denis (Shapovalov). It’s a great mix to have as a captain but as far as Friday’s concerned it’s Vasek and Frank and hopefully their experience will set the tone for the weekend.”
“Denis is ready,” Laurendeau said about the 17-year-old current Wimbledon junior boys champion. “We don’t have the luxury to bring somebody who’s not ready to play. He’s ready to play. But we can’t fit three singles guys into two singles matches so…that was my call to go with Frank (instead of Shapovalov) on Friday and I have full confidence.”
Canada is playing in this weekend’s World Group play-off tie – singles start Friday at 3 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) – after losing 3-0 to France in Guadeloupe in the opening round of World Group action last March. A loss this weekend to Chile and it would fall back into zonal Group I competition for 2017 – a lower level it has managed to avoid since 2011.
Referring to absentees Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor, Laurendeau said, “as far as Milos and Daniel are concerned, there’s no time to think about them, we have to focus on the players that are here, that are here and playing for Canada. We have a mission and that’s to stay in the World Group. It’s been a while (2011) since we’ve been in Group I and some of us have very vivid memories and we don’t want to go there again. Our guys have really prepared for this opportunity to keep us in the World Group and I trust that we will.”
Pospisil, who is 6-9 in Davis Cup singles, was the hero of Canada’s critical World Group play-off victory in Ramat Hasharon, Israel in 2011 when he won two singles and a doubles match. He may not have to do as much this weekend but the pressure is clearly on him as Canada’s No. 1 player.
“I’m definitely not playing like somebody ranked 120 right now,” Pospisil said about the form that his seen his ranking tumble in 2016 and his current ATP win/loss record is at 11-17 for 2016. “I definitely lost a bit of momentum this year so with that in mind it’s just waiting for things to fall into place, getting confidence here and there and I think it will just take off from there. The most important thing is to keep working hard and I have no doubts I’ll get back to where I belong.”
Nestor was Pospisil’s doubles partner back in 2011 in Israel but is unavailable this time because of a grade two tear in his left calf. But the 44-year-old veteran, who would have played his 50th Davis Cup tie had he been healthy, is with the team in Halifax.
“We’re just glad Daniel is here,” Laurendeau said, adding with a shout-out to Nestor who was in the room, “‘hey chief, thanks for coming.’ Daniel’s here to prepare our guys and to keep the great chemistry that we have and support our guys like he has the last 24 years. I’d like to see him play just because I know how much he enjoys it and how much he cares. He’s taken another role as a consultant – that what he says he is, just a consultant.”
Laurendeau’s counterpart, Massu, was generous in his praise of Canada and its team and players. “When we knew we would play Canada here we knew that they made the semifinals two (three) years ago,” said the 36-year-old former world No. 9. “In the future, Canada can win the Davis Cup for sure. They have so many good players – Milos (Raonic) is the present but also Felix (Auger-Aliassime) won the US Open in juniors and (Denis) Shapovalov won the Wimbledon juniors and they have another player here (hitting partner 17-year-old Jack Mingjie Lin) so young, so good. It’s unfortunate that Milos is not here but anyway the team from Canada is so tough. We’ll try to do our best.”
Davis Cup snapshots
Above is the machine used to measure the speed of the court for Davis Cup matches. The 40-44 speed category is considered medium fast while 45 to 50 is fast. The court at the Scotiabank Centre is rated a 45.
The umpires this weekend will be Tamara Vrhovec of Croatia and Jake Garner of the U.S. with the referee being Wayne McKewen (on right) of Australia.
This is a shot of Canadian team members getting set to return to the team hotel on Thursday morning. The Scotiabank Centre is on a steep incline and in the background here you can see the blue of the world-renowned Halifax harbour.
Halifax post card
The draw ceremony for this weekend’s Canada – Chile World Group play-off tie was done Thursday at the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, which is part of the Scotiabank Centre where the tie will be held.
There’s no doubt in the displays there who is the province’s favourite son – Canadian hockey superstar Sidney Crosby from Cole Harbour about a half hour’s drive away. In the display on top here are some examples of the beginnings of Crosby’s hockey career. At the bottom is a reminder of who his favourite team was from the beginning – even if it didn’t eventually work out that way in the end.