Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Well before the first ball was struck in the Canada – Colombia Davis Cup World Group Playoff on Friday afternoon in Halifax, the host nation’s main cheering section was in full voice at the Metro Centre arena. It belted out a sing-song refrain that has fast become a favourite of the support squad and its fans: “We’re red, we’re white, we’re total dynamite – Can-ah-dah, Can-ah-dah.”

In the bunch above are two look-alike mainstays of the group. They can be found in the second row in red shirts and with their vocal chords at max volume. Their names are Tom and Petr Pospisil. The answer to the obvious question is “yes.”

“We’re total dynamite,” certainly applied to the opening day 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory by third brother Vasek over Santiago Giraldo, and Milos Raonic’s merciless 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 thumping of Alejandro Gonzalez.

But there’s a caveat when it comes to Saturday’s doubles, with Daniel Nestor and Pospisil slated to face Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. The Colombians are a fast-improving, very motivated pair on tour and considered a genuine threat to the more highly-touted Canadian tandem.

Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Before Friday’s matches, which were preceded by a pep rally in the Grand Parade (above), few really expected Canada to plough the Colombians at the loss of zero sets. But maybe it took its cue from the World Group semifinals earlier in the day when Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, as well as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, led Switzerland and France respectively to decisive no-sets lost wins over Italy and Czech Republic.

More likely it was a fast indoor Premier court surface that helped both Pospisil and Raonic.

Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Giraldo (above with captain Mauricio Hadad), after a decidedly sketchy performance against Pospisil, was the most exercised of the losing Colombians about the speed of the court, saying that he preferred longer baseline rallies that were difficult on the fast surface laid down in the Metro Centre.

But he was almost incapable of hitting winners or putting away shots when he was in positive positions on court. Pospisil had 41 winners (and 46 unforced errors) while not playing his best tennis, while Giraldo, ranked No. 33, 10 spots higher than his Canadian opponent, could only manage 14 winners to go with 25 unforced errors.

Regarding the speed of the court, ex-player and current Colombian captain Hadad was candid about his team adjusting to the court speed, noting, “we got here on Saturday night. We had plenty of time. Obviously our guys are used to slower surfaces, slower clay courts. And when we come here it’s always fast. So, when we drew Canada back in April, we knew it was going to be fast. But the surface still allows you to play, to get some rallies from the baseline. We knew it was going to be tough today and the results show how tough.”

Gavin Ziv of Tennis Canada explained that the Premier court in Halifax is the same one that was used for Canada’s Fed Cup tie against Slovakia in Quebec City in April. That was a brand new court and fairly gritty on top so a new layer was painted on to smooth it out and make it a little faster. But it’s still in the range of what is considered “medium-fast.”

The court in Halifax is stored in Montreal and Tennis Canada also has another older Premier court that is warehoused in Vancouver.

Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Giraldo and Pospisil were both tentative and tight in the early going until Pospisil broke serve to 4-2 and served out the set 6-3, saving all three break points he faced.

In the second set, Pospisil’s game dipped midway through the set and Giraldo broke serve to lead 4-2. But, typical of his day, he double-faulted on the first point of the following game and Pospisil soon broke right back. A decisive 7-2 win in the tiebreak that decided the set and Pospisil had the match well in hand.

“It was a solid match but not an extraordinary match,” Pospisil told a reporter in French. “I’ve played better matches this summer but in Davis Cup there’s more tension and it’s normal that you may not play your best. So you play with your heart and you battle for every point.”

All and all it was a good day for Pospisil, who served well on some very important points – including in the second set when he won two of three consecutive games when he was love-30 down on his serve.

After battling a back issue for almost all the first six months of 2014, he said in a Sportsnet interview on court after the match, “my ranking (No. 43) is still pretty good considering my start to the year.”

Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Raonic really struggled in a massive seven deuce (five break points saved) game at one-all in the first set.

After holding, Raonic broke Gonzalez in the very next game and never was really threatened the rest of the one hour and 45-minute encounter.

Gonzalez, 25 and ranked No. 90, was making his Davis Cup debut but later claimed he was not nervous because he was so “motivated” for the match.

Like Pospisil, Raonic was satisfied but not overjoyed with his performance. His own rating was a “ B+.” He explained, “the only thing is I struggled with my concentration through certain parts of the match.”

Raonic had a strong serving day – 30 aces and 13 service winners in just 13 service games.

Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Unfortunately the service gun and the display unit on court only worked on and off during the match. Asked about not having it in operation, Raonic replied, “I think it helps in the crowd, it gives something for people to get behind. You’ll see a lot of ‘oohs and aahs’ when it’s above the 140 (mph) mark – or depending how the speed gun is set, some of the higher numbers relatively for that day. I do use it… sometimes when I’m struggling on the return or if I’m not seeing the ball too well or the ball is coming quick… as a benchmark. If there’s no gun, or the gun isn’t working properly, you just try to use the relative (speed) as much as possible.”

Raonic did blast one that showed up as 225 km/hr (140 mph) up the middle in the third game of the final set, which inspired one young lad in the first row of the stands to call out, “250 up the T.” Raonic obliged as best he could, hitting a 223 km/hr service winner on the following point.

Another of the boy’s other friends, and a Raonic fan, yelled, “Milos, you big furnace.” (Must be a Nova Scotia thing!)

When yours truly spoke with the guy who controls the serve gun and its display, he said that it had worked perfectly during the Pospisil-Giraldo match. He said he would work on the problem overnight but he actually thought the discrepancy between the speed of Raonic’s serve and those of the other players might be responsible for the malfunctioning of the system.

So Canada heads into Saturday needing just one more win to take the tie and guarantee itself a spot in the 2015 World Group. But the doubles match-up is expected to be very competitive. Nestor currently ranks second in the doubles team standings and Pospisil is No. 6 with his partner Jack Sock. Cabal and Farah are in 12th position.

Below are Nestor and Pospisil crossing paths after Nestor hit and Pospisil was about to take to the court for practice on Friday morning.

Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said he was not surprised with the convincing singles wins by Pospisil and Raonic. “No, because the conditions were in our favour,” he explained. “That’s what we wanted – balls that were fast and a fast surface. And we wanted a rowdy crowd. So the table was set so that our players could really exploit their strengths – big serves, their attacking games and their big forehands. Everything was a little too fast for the Colombians today, that’s what we wanted.”

Summing up, he said, “today (Friday) things went our way, the guys put out a good effort. It was a good day at the office. Tomorrow we have a tough assignment – those guys (Farah and Cabal) don’t mind these courts in doubles and it will be a tough point to earn.”

So far, the Canadian team is very pleased with the support and the hospitality it has received in Halifax. The Metro Centre is very convenient, in fact it’s just a short downhill walk back to the hotel. So short in fact that Raonic sauntered back after his match along with his sister and her son and the rest of his group.

At one point, he asked a passing acquaintance if he would get out his camera and take a picture of him and his nephew David.

Above is how it turned out.


Near the Canadian team hotel in Halifax there’s a small, floating golf green out in the harbour. It has been there since May as part of a fundraising campaign for a local hospital.

Since it was installed – $10 for three shots, $20 for seven – there have only been five holes-in-one. Getting on the green is no ‘gimme.’

One day earlier in this week, the Canadian Davis Cup team boys all took a shot at it – and only one was able to get a ball on the green. Not surprisingly, it was Jesse Levine, who has spent many years living in the golf haven of Florida.