Canada to open 2014 Davis Cup in Japan
Canada ranked seventh overall, while Japan is 12th
Canada pulled off a number of upsets on the way to a surprise appearance in the Davis Cup semifinals last weekend in Serbia.
It was an incredible run that captain Martin Laurendeau feels was actually put in motion with a loss back in February 2012, when Canada dropped a 4-1 decision to a French side anchored by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
"What I liked was the way our guys responded and rebounded from that," Laurendeau said Wednesday on a conference call. "France is very deep, has a great tradition at Davis Cup. It really helped us as a reference point, just a way to approach the competition as a team.
They really see now that Davis Cup is big, it's huge, it's very serious and they're all aware of what we can do as a team. They know we can do great things and they're really keen on doing that as best they can- Canada's team captain Martin Laurendeau
"I think it reinforced the bond and the team chemistry with the guys."
Canada bounced back later in the year with a solid 4-1 victory over South Africa at Montreal's Uniprix Stadium, with singles star Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., leading the way with a pair of victories.
The win kept Canada's spot in the World Group and helped instil a feeling that the team belonged at the top level. Over the three ties that followed, the Canadians went out and proved it.
The breakthrough season began with a first-round upset over top-ranked Spain in Vancouver. The Canadians returned to the indoor hardcourt at the Thunderbird Sports Centre two months later for an impressive quarter-final win over Italy.
Canada then hit the road and pushed a powerhouse Serbian side the distance in front of a raucous crowd at the Belgrade Arena. Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil turned in a game performance in the fifth and deciding match on the indoor clay before falling to Janko Tipsarevic.
It was a captivating weekend with plenty of drama and two five-set marathon victories for Canada. The effort should provide a tremendous building block for the 2014 Davis Cup, starting with a World Group first-round tie at Japan on Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
"When you go through a Davis Cup weekend like we did against Spain, Italy and now Serbia, it really prepares you for the toughest experience you can go through," Laurendeau said. "So after that, you always feel like you can tackle anything that comes at you and I think the guys have handled that really well.
"They really see now that Davis Cup is big, it's huge, it's very serious and they're all aware of what we can do as a team. They know we can do great things and they're really keen on doing that as best they can."
Doubles star Daniel Nestor of Toronto is 41 now and continues to rise to the occasion. His five-set doubles victory with Pospisil was one of the highlights of Canada's first Davis Cup semifinal appearance in the modern era.
Laurendeau said Nestor has no plans to slow down and expects to be in form for the Japan tie.
"He's going to be looking to be at his peak because there's a Grand Slam (Australian Open) the week before," Laurendeau said. "This guy plays for those big moments so he's going to be doing everything he can to be as fit as he can and continue his contribution.
"He only has one shot at winning a point and he always makes every effort possible to be able to give himself the best chance to do that and I don't see anything different for 2014."
No. 12 Japan holds a 5-0 record against seventh-ranked Canada, though the two teams have not faced each other in Davis Cup since 1938. Japan is making its return to the World Group in 2014 after a one-year absence.
The host city for the Canada-Japan tie will be determined at a later date.
Pospisil turned his ankle on the final point of the Serbia tie but it doesn't appear to be a serious injury.
"It's not the first time he's gone over on an ankle," Laurendeau said. "It seems like the swelling and the injury is under control. Now it's just a matter of the (doctors) figuring out when exactly he can step back on the court. At this stage it's day to day from what I hear."
Expect Canada's 2014 roster to look much the same as the last few seasons. It's a squad that appears to be positioned for even bigger things in the future.
"We went from being qualifiers to being seeded in the main draw in the World Group," Laurendeau said. "That's big progress, huge progress in just a couple years and I'm very proud of the way the guys have done that."