Frank Dancevic hoped to relive some Davis Cup magic, but the surprise substitute came up short Sunday against one of the world's top tennis players.
Canada failed to advance to the Davis Cup quarter-finals in Vancouver as France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Dancevic in straight sets.
Tsonga, the world's sixth-ranked player, prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, over the feisty 178th-ranked Niagara Falls, Ont., native, who was a late replacement for injured top singles player Milos Raonic.
"I was definitely the underdog going in today," Dancevic said. "I knew I just had to, basically, go out there and just give it all I got and any time I had a chance or an opportunity just go for my shots."
Dancevic's most memorable Davis Cup moment came in 2003 in Calgary when he defeated Brazil's Flavio Saretta to give Canada only its second berth in World Group play. But he could not repeat the magic against the powerful French.
"Same sort of situation — back then, [Daniel Nestor] wasn't feeling too well to play the fifth match, and they threw me in last second and I ended up pulling a big upset," Dancevic said. "I knew it was in me to go out and put a good performance and, unfortunately today, [Tsonga] played a little too good for me. But I tried to bring that same feeling back going [into] today's match."
The win gave France an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five competition with one match to play.
"I knew in this match it was going to be more physical than he was used to playing," Tsonga said. "So I was confident."
Dancevic said the key was Tsonga's strong start.
"I was sort of one step behind the whole match," said Dancevic.
Vancouver resident Vasek Pospisil fell 6-4, 6-4 to Gael Monfils in the final match later Sunday. Monfils, the world's 13th ranked player who had been held out with a knee injury, replaced Julien Benneteau as the French team gave the crowd a high-quality player for a meaningless match.
Once Canada's top singles player, Dancevic has dropped to third in the country behind Raonic and 115th-ranked Pospisil. He has spent the last year trying to rebuild his game while battling injuries. In 2011, Dancevic became the first Canadian to qualify for all four Grand Slam events in the same calendar year, but he had played sparingly before this event.
"I thought he played good," said Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau. "He went after Tsonga with everything he had. Basically, [Dancevic] had only three matches under his belt this year, I think, so it was a tough assignment to take on the world No. 6, who was really playing well this weekend."
Sunday's appearance was Dancevic's 27th Davis Cup match. He now sports a 13-14 record in singles and doubles matches over 16 ties. His singles record dropped to 10-14 and he is 3-0 in doubles.
France will take on the United States in the World Group quarter-finals in April. Canada must play a World Group playoff tie in September to try to retain its spot in the elite 16-team group for 2013.
Raonic pulls out
Dancevic, 31, got the call to play his first match of the weekend after Raonic pulled out due to a knee injury. Tsonga said he was both surprised and disappointed when Raonic could not go.
"For us it was a good surprise," said Tsonga, who recorded nine aces compared to Dancevic's seven. "Milos is a good player, talented, and I was a bit sad to play against another guy, because I think it [would have been] a good confrontation with Milos."
Canada, ranked 14th in the world, needed a win in the reverse singles match to keep its victory hopes alive. But the upset was not to be after Dancevic lost the opening four games of the match and then surrendered leads twice in the second set.
Dancevic signalled his competitiveness early as he took 10 points to deuce or advantage in the first game. Tsonga's powerful serve was not a problem for Dancevic, but he struggled at times to counter Tsonga's strong cross-court forehands.
In the opening set, Dancevic rallied and pulled within 5-4 on a service winner. But Tsonga won the next game to take the set.
In the second set, the Canadian underdog led 3-2 and 4-3, but allowed Tsonga to come back twice. The Frenchman took a 5-4 lead after he landed a long forehand on the line. Dancevic challenged the call but lost upon a review.
Before the next game, Dancevic ignited the flag-waving crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre by flexing his biceps while changing his shirt and then pumping his fist as he took his spot on the court.
But Tsonga clinched the game and second set with an ace, then cruised through the third set.
"I felt the energy out there and I felt like I had a lot of momentum on my side," Dancevic said. "I felt like anything could happen ... and it came down to just a few important shots by him, especially in the second set. He painted the lines on a few forehands, hit some unbelievable down-line and cross-court one-hand backhands."
The lineup change was announced about an hour before play was scheduled to begin Sunday. Rules required the switch to be made within 60 minutes of the start of the match. Dancevic learned of the final decision Sunday morning, but was reasonably certain after Saturday's matches that he would play and began preparing mentally.
Both countries picked up a win in the opening singles matches Friday. France pulled ahead when Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau beat Raonic and Toronto's Nestor 7-6 (1), 7-6 (2), 6-3.
Raonic, the world No. 29 from Thornhill, Ont., experienced some pain in his knee during and after Saturday's doubles match.
"It started affecting the main parts of my game — my serve and my first step," said Raonic.
Total attendance for the three-day competition was 15,233.