Calling him a rising tennis star with "nerves of steel," Canada's Davis Cup captain says 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov is ready for centre stage.
Shapovalov will be in the spotlight this weekend when Canada takes on Britain in a Davis Cup World Group tie. The teen will kick off the five-match series Friday with a singles match against Daniel Evans.
Shapovalov, ranked 234th in the world, is highly regarded by Tennis Canada. While he will be in tough against 45th-ranked Evans, team captain Martin Laurendeau believes Shapovalov is up to the challenge.
"Denis is ready," Laurendeau said at Thursday's draw. "He's a young player who has nerves of steel; he likes playing in front of a big crowd and wants to show off his talent and his capabilities."
A couple of big names will be missing from the tie. Canada will be without world No. 3 Milos Raonic, who is dealing with a nagging hip injury. World No. 1 Andy Murray is absent from Britain's team, citing fatigue.
Shapovalov looks to set tone
Shapovalov won his Davis Cup debut in September, defeating Christian Garin in straight sets as Canada swept Chile in a playoff tie to remain in the elite World Group. Canada had already secured the victory against Chile before Shapovalov's debut, but he said Thursday he's ready for the pressure of playing a meaningful game.
"I'm very excited to play the match [Friday]," he said. "I'm pretty prepared, the whole team's really gotten me ready for it so I think it's going to be fun."
"I wanted to play the first match and kind of set the tone for the team. I'm really looking forward to the match so I think it's going to be good that I'm playing first."
Canada will send veteran Vasek Pospisil to face Kyle Edmund in Friday's second singles match, while Daniel Nestor and Pospisil will take on Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot in doubles action Saturday. The event wraps up Sunday with two reverse singles matches.
The past 12 months have been difficult for Pospisil as he struggled with injuries, finished fourth in doubles at the Rio Olympics and had a lengthy losing streak on the ATP Tour. The 26-year-old is hopeful the Davis Cup, where he's had previous success, will serve as a springboard for the coming season.
Pospisil schedule not ideal
The schedule isn't ideal as Pospisil will have little time to recover from his singles match before preparing for Saturday's doubles, but he's not concerned.
"I've trained very hard the last couple of weeks doing a lot of volume," he said. "It's not something I'm not used to.
"I have no doubts about how my body's going to hold up. I don't foresee any issue whatsoever."
The hard court is familiar to the Canadians, as it is the same surface used at various indoor facilities in the country.
"We have been preparing hard all week and are ready to start the tie," said Laurendeau. "We know Great Britain will be a challenge, but our team is ready to take the court on a surface that we believe suits our style of play. We're very excited to be in Ottawa playing in front of what looks to be a full and supportive crowd, and we will be definitely be looking to use that home court to our advantage throughout the weekend."
Nestor is set to play his 50th Davis Cup tie Saturday afternoon. It was exactly 25 years ago that the 44-year-old made his Davis Cup singles debut.
This weekend's winner will move on to the World Group quarter-finals and be assured a spot in the World Group the following year. The losing nation will be forced to play a World Group play-off tie to keep their spot for 2018 play.
Canada and Britain have only played once in the history of Davis Cup, with Britain winning 4-1 back in May 1967. As defending champion, Britain is the No. 1 ranked Davis Cup country in the world and will be the seeded nation for this tie. Canada is currently ranked No. 12.