There were a few wobbly moments – mainly two lost second sets – but Canada’s Davis Cup team came through with opening-day singles wins by Frank Dancevic and Vasek Pospisil on Friday to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the World Group play-off being held in Halifax.
Dancevic defeated Christian Garin 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 (with the team bench celebrating above) while Pospisil overcame the big game of 6-foot-6 Nicolas Jarry to pull out a 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory.
That sets the stage for a possible clinching doubles match on Saturday afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) to assure Canada of a spot in the World Group in 2017, which would be its sixth in a row among the elite 16 nations.
The 31-year-old Dancevic, playing in his 14th hard-court Davis Cup match against the 20-year-old Garin, who has just played one Davis Cup match on hard courts, got off to a strong start, breaking in the second game on his way to a 3-0 lead. He never looked back. In the second set, as would later be the case with Pospisil, Dancevic had his chances to take control of the match but somehow was unable to capitalize on being a service break ahead three different times and then, even worse, having a 5-1 lead in the ensuing tiebreak before dropping six points in a row.
“I got a little tight in that second set,” Dancevic admitted. “It was tough finishing it off. His level went up toward the end of the second set. He was getting a lot more balls in and getting a lot more returns back. I was finding it more difficult to find the spots on my serve and that combo just kind of won him the second set.”
A detour to the locker room proved the elixir Dancevic, now ranked No. 236, needed to get back on track against the No. 260 Garin. “I took a long break after the second set,” Dancevic later explained, unable to conceal a smile. “I went to the bathroom, re-grouped, put some cold water on my head. Marty (captain Laurendeau) was good in the chair – calmed me down. I stayed aggressive, stayed on top and I felt great the last two sets.”
Garin (above receiving advice from captain Nicolas Massu) was playing someone in Dancevic who has won 13 live Davis Cup rubbers, including seven on hard courts in 24 appearances since 2002. “It was the first time that I played on this surface and it was difficult,” Garin said about the slick carpet laid down in Scotiabank Centre. “Frank was much better on the deuce or advantage points and that’s why he won. He has a lot of experience on this court.”
If Garin is fated to always be better on his favourite red clay, Chile’s other singles player, Jarry, seems to have a game tailor made for hard courts.
He got off to a slow start against the No. 120-ranked Pospisil, losing the first set 6-1 and later explained, “it was tough to concentrate at the beginning – the first five minutes of warm-up with all the music and things. I couldn’t feel anything really. The sound took everything from me and I couldn’t get into the match and couldn’t do anything in the first set.”
Gradually the string-bean Chilean, who has spent some time training in Key Biscayne, Fla., got his claws into the match. “I kept fighting and I got the second set,” said Jarry, ranked a modest No. 423. “I got the rhythm and I think I played a very high level the second and third sets. It’s tough to keep playing at this level because I’m not used to it. He’s a very tough opponent and everybody knows his ranking isn’t over 100. He played well. I could have played better in the tiebreak but that’s tennis.”
Though he’s four inches shorter than the 6-10 John Isner, Jarry’s game-style is similar to the lanky American’s. But while he had 10 aces and won 71 per cent of first-serve points, Pospisil outdid him with 16 aces and winning 92 per cent of first-serve points.
After Friday night’s showing, it’s hard to imagine the Chilean’s game being better showcased on any surface other than fast hard courts or grass. “It’s been a long time since I played on hard courts,” the 20-year-old Jarry said, “but I know this is going to be my surface in a couple of years. I think this is just my fourth match on this type of surface and I played a great match against a great opponent.”
The most telling stat on the Pospisil ledger was that he only faced one break point in the entire match while converting on 3/11 against his opponent. “He only had one opportunity the whole match on my serve,” Pospisil said about Jarry. “He played it well and I got broken.
“The toughest bit for me was losing that second set because I thought I didn’t deserve to lose it. The momentum shift was when I had a break point at 4-all and I had a good look at a pass. Him getting out of that game gave him a lot of confidence. Up until that point his level was significantly lower until he held there. That gave him a big boost. He got to 5-all and suddenly he was a bit more loose and after winning that set he was playing really relaxed. If I had broken there – of course it’s easier to say now – but if I had made that passing shot and broken serve, I think it might have looked a little bit different. But it’s still credit to him, I thought he played well.”
After he lost the first point of the third set, a frustrated Pospisil gave his racquet a serious swipe on the court. But his game soon tightened up and he would later say about how he bounced back following the second set, “I embraced the challenge after that. I kind of really got into it mentally and started just loving the fight and trying to compete. That helped me at the end of the third set and I took it into the rest of the match.”
The 26-year-old Canadian, appearing in his 14th Davis Cup tie, sported a significant amount of kinesio tape on his right arm. “I just have some elbow pain,” Pospisil said. “I’m playing with anti-inflammatories and getting some treatments. It warms up and then it’s okay. But yeah, I’m having some elbow pain.”
Pospisil kept an ultra-serious demeanour during the match, except for a moment – in the fifth game of the final set – when he prematurely walked to his chair thinking the game was over only to be informed by captain Laurendeau that it was only 40-15. He smiled as he returned to the baseline and later humourously explained, “maybe it’s happened one or two times in my career but I was feeling good. I’d just played a good point so I felt I deserved to win the game so I just went to sit down. I lost track of the score. I was just really going with the momentum at that point. I guess it’s good I wasn’t thinking about the score. I realized when (captain) Marty told me. I looked up and he was still there and I was kind of confused why he was still standing there.”
Offering his assessment of a successful opening day in the best-of-five match tie, Louis Borfiga, Tennis Canada’s vice-president of high performance athlete development, said, “the first match was a match we had to win and Frank did exactly what he had to do to win. It wasn’t a great match but, in Davis Cup, what’s important is to shake hands as the winner.
“In the second match Jarry surprised me, especially at the end of the second set and in the third and fourth sets. He played well above his ranking (423). But what I really liked was Vasek’s attitude. He fought from the first to the last point. And he didn’t play against a ranking but against a player. He respected the opponent across the net and, in my view, it was a good match for the rest of his season.”
Although Chilean captain Nicolas Massu had a discussion or two with umpire Tamara Vrohovec of Croatia (above), the matches were conducted without serious incidents – with Hawk-Eye line-calling always a useful pacifier in areas of potential conflict.
Both Dancevic and Pospisil credited the enthusiastic crowd – led by Pospisil’s drum-thumping brothers Petr and Tom – with helping them get through a few dicey moments in their matches.
Captain Laurendeau (above with Dancevic) was cautious when looking ahead to Saturday’s doubles, which will almost certainly be a match-up of Pospisil and Adil Shamasdin versus Jarry and Chilean veteran doubles player Hans Podlipnik-Castillo. “These singles were good but you’ve still got to win the third point,” said the 52-year-old Montrealer and former world No. 90 (1988). “It’s often the toughest point to win. We really like our (indoor hard-court) surface, it’s very fast and everything but in doubles that can often be a great equalizer. It’s fast so that even a player with an average serve can have a good serve. And there’s not much room on the court. So I expect the sets to be close and to be decided by a point or two one way or the other. We’ll have to play as a team, use the crowd support and play with a lot of emotion to win the last point.”
They also serve
Stéphane Lamy has been the physio with the Canadian Davis Cup team since 2011.
Not only does he make sure the bodies of Canada’s Davis Cup players are in as good shape as possible, he also pitches in to do some of the grunt work such as carrying supplies out to the court as in the picture here.
Halifax post card
The port of Halifax has long played a essential role in the commercial and military history of Canada. During World War II, it was the hub of shipping traffic for both troops and supplies headed overseas. This plaque near the harbour pays homage to Norway’s contribution.