The rumours and speculation about the teams for this weekend’s Canada-India Davis Cup World Group play-off tie ended on Thursday when captains Martin Laurendeau and Mahesh Bhupathi submitted their final four-man line-ups before the draw ceremony.
Bhupathi really didn’t surprise anyone by substituting No. 56-ranked doubles player Purav Raja for singles No. 665-ranked Saketh Myneni – shoring up a doubles pairing anchored by world No. 19 Rohan Bopanna.
It was left to Laurendeau to stick with the four-man team of Denis Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil, Daniel Nestor and Brayden Schnur when many had thought he would go with the experience of Frank Dancevic (36 Davis Cup singles matches) over Schnur, who will be playing his first when he faces Ramkumar Ramanathan in the first singles at 3 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) on Friday in Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum.
The general feeling seems to be that the 22-year-old Schnur (above in a gag poster with his head stuck on Laurendeau near the Team Canada locker room) gives the Canadian team more options over the three days of the best-of-five match tie than the 32-year-old Dancevic.
When Schnur’s name was drawn out first (above shown by referee Norbert Peick) at Thursday’s draw, it meant he played the first singles on Friday against the No. 1 Indian – the No. 154-ranked Ramanathan, and that No. 1 Canadian Denis Shapovalov (51) will face the Indian No. 2 Yuki Bhambri (157).
The No. 2 Canadian singles player would normally have been Pospisil, ranked No. 82, but he’s still getting back to full fitness after a disc issue that forced him out of singles and doubles at the US Open 15 days ago.
Pospisil and Nestor (above) have been named for doubles against Bopanna and Raja.
“I’ve done everything I can to get ready,” Pospisil said. “Basically I’m not feeling good enough to play on Friday but feeling good enough to play (doubles) on Saturday. I’m actually feeling quite good at the moment, so it’s day-by-day.”
“You have to be ready for everything as a team, especially at this stage of the season,” Laurendeau said. “It’s not unusual to have injuries so you have to be ready with all kinds of different possible combinations. The idea is to figure out the best options that we have. If Vasek had been able to play tomorrow (Friday), he’s the first guy that would have wanted to play – he’s always been a guy to play three matches and make the maximum contribution. This time starting with the doubles gives him a few more days. It’s amazing he’s here and ready to play considering the state he was in.
“It should be noted it’s been a huge effort on his part – to have the resilience and to want to be here with us. He’s ready to play doubles. It’s a long weekend. We’ve got four players – three singles players. There’s only two for tomorrow but we’ll see how the weekend plays out for Sunday.”
That suggests Pospisil could figure in the final day’s reverse singles if he’s fit and the tie is still up for grabs.
The Schnur-Ramanathan opener Friday features two 22-year-olds who have travelled different paths. Schnur turned pro at Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2016 after playing three years of college tennis at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill while Ramanathan made his pro breakthrough at the Chennai tournament in his home country in 2014 – upsetting No. 1 compatriot Somdev Devvarman. He has trained at the Casal-Sanchez Academy in Barcelona.
The two players have never met although Schnur, whose ranking has risen from No. 433 to No. 202 in 2017, said he is familiar with Ramanathan from Challenger tournaments. At his last five Challenger events dating back to June, Schnur has a 10-5 record while Ramanathan is 5-4 in his last four. In the recent US Open qualifying, Schnur lost a tough first round 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 to No. 192-ranked American Mitchell Krueger. Ramanathan defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round before losing to another Frenchman, Nicolas Mahut.
The 6-foot-2 Indian did have a remarkable week in June on grass at the Antalya, Turkey ATP 250, qualifying and reaching the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-2 upset of world No. 8 Dominic Thiem.
“After New York, I came back to Montreal and I did two hard weeks of training,” the 6-foot-4 Schnur said about his post-US Open work. “The week before this was a lot of tennis, just trying to improve on some little things. I put in a good hard week of training so I think I’m ready to go.”
Recalling his other team experience, while at North Carolina, Schnur (with stringer Yvon Gilbert above) said, “my best college moment would have been beating (University of) Georgia in (Athens) Georgia in the NCAA tournament in my freshman year. We beat them in the round-of-16 and it was a packed house and they have probably the best college stadium for tennis. That was pretty special. We ended up falling in the elite eight to Oklahoma. But that match that day could be one of my best tennis moments I’ve had, just because I was able to share that moment with my teammates and my closest friends. That’s something I really love about the team aspect of Davis Cup. The moment isn’t for you – it’s for everyone else on the team. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Against the University of Georgia in that 2014 dual match, Schnur played No. 1 singles and won both his singles and doubles.
There’s no chance Denis Shapovalov will be playing American college tennis anytime soon after rocketing up the rankings the past two months with well-documented performances at Coupe Rogers in Montreal and the US Open.
In the second singles Friday he faces Bhambri, just three spots in the ATP rankings below Ramanathan, who’s the more experienced of the Indian singles players with 10 Davis Cup ties (12-5 in singles) to five ties (5-3 in singles) for Ramanathan.
It’s quite remarkable that neither of Canada’s singles players – Shapovalov and Schnur – has ever won a ‘live’ Davis Cup match.
But, especially in the 18-year-old Shapovalov’s case, he has made so many incredible breakthroughs of late that winning an initial Davis Cup singles victory cannot be too daunting after feats such as upsetting then No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal at Coupe Rogers last month before a wildly-partisan STADE IGA crowd.
With Milos Raonic absent while he recovers from a left wrist procedure, Shapovalov has assumed the role of team leader – at least in terms of his level of play. “I don’t think there’s much pressure on me,” he said Thursday about his newfound status. “I’m just going to go out there, play for my country and have fun.”
In their only previous meeting, he beat Bhambri 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 at the National Bank Challenger event in Granby, Que., just before his memorable run in Montreal.
Canada is bidding to preserve its spot in the World Group for 2018, and that would make it seven years in a row among the elite 16 nations. With the recent brilliant play by Shapovalov, along with Raonic, Pospisil and the emergence of No. 168-ranked Félix Auger-Aliassime, just 17 and the winner of a Challenger event in Seville, Spain, last week and already in the quarter-finals of another one in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, this week, Canada is a budding Davis Cup powerhouse. A win over India, to avoid relegation to zonal play in 2018, is critical.
While Pospisil is not available for Friday’s opening singles, there will definitely be a Pospisil family contribution to the Canadian effort at Northlands Coliseum. Brothers Tom and Petr have led an irrepressible group of Canadian supporters in recent years at Davis Cup ties all over the world – and will be in house over the weekend.
“They’ve been carrying us through a lot of matches since 2012, that was the first year that it was formed,” Vasek said about his brothers and their boisterous band of comrades. “So it’s five years now. Honestly they’ve been a big part of our Davis Cup success. We’d fed off the energy of that cheering section and they really get the crowd into it. It’s tough for them because they have jobs and they have to put all that aside and travel and cheer us on. Hopefully they can they can keep it going for a little while longer for sure.”
The good news for the tie versus India – Tom, Petr and their rowdy friends will be positioned immediately behind the Canadian team bench this weekend. They have never before been seated closer to the action. So it remains to be seen, and heard, if they can make their presence felt in a manner that surpasses what they have done at other Canadian team ties.
Eva Asderaki-Moore – Umpire
One of the two umpires for this weekend’s Canada – India Davis Cup tie will be Eva Asderaki-Moore, seen above checking out the Northlands Coliseum scoreboard with referee Norbert Peick and Canadian team physio Stéphane Lamy.
“I wanted to play tennis as a junior,” the Greek native said about her beginnings in the sport. “One year my club had an international tournament and they asked me to be a line judge. I liked being on court during the matches and I met other umpires who told stories about being on the road. It sounded exciting and I’d pretty well realized I wasn’t going to be a pro player.
“Then there were events in Greece and I started to do small tournaments – lines and chairs. People watch you when you do chairs, evaluate you and three years later I had the first two levels (of international certification).”
She didn’t hesitate when asked about the most memorable moment as an umpire. “The 2015 US Open final (Djokovic – Federer) has been the highlight of my career so far,” Asderaki-Moore said. She has also umpired two women’s US Open finals – 2011 and last Saturday’s Stephens-Keys title match, as well as two Wimbledon women’s finals – 2013 and this year’s Muguruza- Venus Williams match-up.
She lives in Melbourne with her husband Paul Moore who works for Tennis Australia.
Edmonton Post Card
This is one of the watering holes on Jasper Avenue, one of Edmonton’s main drags. It seems like a nice spot but not for tennis fans last Sunday – every screen in the place had on NFL football games. Good luck if you wanted to watch the US Open final between Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson.