Canada upsets Spain to move on in Davis Cup World Group
Milos Raonic defeats Garcia-Lopez to lock up Canada's 1st-ever trip to 2nd round
A year later, Milos Raonic experienced jubilation instead of disappointment at a Davis Cup tie in Vancouver.
In the process, he helped Canada make tennis history.
Raonic propelled Canada into the second round of the Davis Cup World Group on Sunday as he beat Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets — 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 — at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
The win gave Canada an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five tie with one reverse singles match to play.
Canada ultimately won 3-2 after Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., lost a later dead rubber (7-5, 6-4), which was limited to two sets, to Albert Ramos.
The win marked the first time that Canada has advanced to the second round of the World Group level, which is open to the top 16 countries. Canada is ranked 12th on the Davis Cup table while Spain, which lost the 2012 final to the Czech Republic, entered the weekend No. 1.
"It's amazing to do everything we've done," said Raonic.
Last year on the same court, Raonic missed his reverse singles match against France because of a minor knee injury. Dancevic replaced him and lost the decisive match of the tie.
Raonic came under intense criticism afterward because he played the following weekend at an ATP tournament in San Jose.
"I love to prove people wrong, and many people were saying maybe Davis Cup doesn't mean a lot to me — and I think I showed that it does," said Raonic.
"It sucked to hear those kind of things, that kind of doubt, and I guess it was nice to prove people wrong."
The Spaniards are five-time Davis Cup champions but they did not have their top four players in the lineup.
David Ferrer, ranked fourth in the world, Rafael Nadal (fifth), Nicolas Almagro (11th) and Fernando Verdasco (24th) stayed home. Nadal and Almagro are recovering from injuries while Ferrer and Verdasco chose to rest.
The Canadians took full advantage.
"I think it still takes quite a lot of courage, resilience and determination to get through what we got through this weekend," said Raonic.
He was rarely tested by Garcia-Lopez, ranked 82nd in the world, who made his first Davis Cup debut. Garcia-Lopez was inserted into the do-or-die match by Spanish captain Alex Corretja, who made a late lineup change in a bid to right Spain's fortunes.
Canada entered play with a 2-1 lead and needed just one win in its final two singles matches to claim the tie.
Garcia-Lopez replaced Marcel Granollers, who was tagged as Spain's top singles player for this event. Granollers, ranked 34th in the world, was upset by Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., — who's ranked a distant 166th — on Friday night.
"It went far beyond his call to do what he did on that first day," Raonic said of Dancevic. "It was pretty amazing."
Granollers also played a gruelling doubles match Saturday that lasted almost four hours. Spain had up to an hour before Sunday's first match to change its lineup.
Garcia-Lopez has a victory over Britain's Andy Murray, ranked third in the world, at an ATP Tour event in Indian Wells, Calif., and also beat compatriot Nadal at another ATP Tour competition in Chennai, India. The unheralded Spaniard has also reached the third round of Grand Slam events on four occasions, the Australian Open twice and once each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
But he struggled to return Raonic's powerful serve. Raonic used aces to clinch the first and second sets.
Garcia-Lopez tried to counter Raonic's power with several cross-court shots in a bid to get the world's 15th-ranked player running around the court. But Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., had little difficulty returning Garcia-Lopez's attempts.
Raonic left Garcia-Lopez vulnerable to several smashes, and caught the Spaniard going the wrong way a number of times with crisp volleys.
Garcia-Lopez acknowledged that he wanted to get Raonic moving to throw him off his game, but added the strategy did not work
"I was impressed with how he played on the baseline," said Garcia-Lopez, noting he knew of Raonic's powerful serve, but was surprised by his baseline play.
Canada's top singles player got off to a hot start as he opened with back-to-back aces and won the game at love with a well-placed volley in the back corner opposite Garcia-Lopez. Raonic took a 3-2 lead in the first set with another ace as he launched a 220-km/h serve past his opponent.
After coming back to break Garcia-Lopez's serve in the sixth game, the players held serve the rest of the way as Raonic took the opening set 6-3.
Raonic maintained his momentum in the second set and started the third set with a service break and hold to go up 2-0. Garcia-Lopez managed to hold serve in the next game, but Raonic proceeded to break again and was well on his way.
Serving for the match, Raonic built up a 40-15 lead and closed out the historic win with an overhead smash, prompting a standing ovation from the flag-waving crowd.
Dancevic played Albert Ramos in the dead rubber later Sunday.
Canada will host Italy in the quarter-finals in April.
Raonic said the full value of the victory over the depleted Spaniards won't be determined until Canada faces the Italians. But the win over Spain has brought the team closer.
"I don't have any control over what people say, but I think it will give us some more respect," said Raonic.