There were a couple of tense moments Friday in Halifax. But the Canadian Davis Cup team managed to get the job done despite the absence of both Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor.
Called upon to play the second singles, veteran Frank Dancevic found himself battling a case of nerves late in the second set of the opening match against 20-year-old Christian Garin. But he turned the page on that quickly and finished up a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4 victory that got the World Group playoff tie against Chile off to a good start.
“That second set, I had it in my hand and I just let it slip away. I had so many opportunities. Got a little bit nervous, battling some demons there serving for it, and in the tiebreaker,” Dancevic said afterwards during an on-court interview. “I’m happy to get through it, and I felt like I played the last two sets a lot better.”
Up second against another 20-year-old, Nicolas Jarry, Vasek Pospisil also had a hiccup. At 6-foot-6, the 20-year-old would seem to present a more formidable challenge on the hard courts, even though like Garin he has very little experience on such a quick indoor court. Certainly he didn’t have nearly as big a serve you’d expect from someone that size.
After winning the first set comfortably, Pospisil battled a few demons of his own and after the two went toe-to-toe until Pospisil served to stay in the second set at 5-6, gave up his only break point opportunity of the match. Jarry converted it, won the set and suddenly things got a little too tight for comfort.
Pospisil had 16 aces, but he only served 51 per cent overall. Luckily, Jarry could barely touch him on serve regardless of whether it was his first or second delivery.
The Canadian No. 1 in the absence of Raonic lost just four of 55 points on his first serve and just eight of 51 on his second serve.
In the second and third sets, Jarry loosened up and instead of hanging way behind the baseline most of the time, stepped into the court and began to dictate a whole lot more. He also cut way down on the unforced errors.
By the end of the third it was at the point where one poor tiebreak, and the Canadian might have had to fight back from two sets to one down.
The way Pospisil has played this year, even though his opponent’s ranking stands at No. 423, there’s no way of knowing if he would have kept his cool enough to do that.
But some of the Vernon, B.C. native’s best moments have come in Davis Cup over the years, so he had that to draw upon. Pospisil played a near-perfect tiebreak, winning seven of the last eight points and fist-pumping his way into the two sets to one lead.
He set things right in the fourth set, closing it out 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-3 and giving Canada 2-0 advantage it’s unlikely to relinquish over the next two days.
“I felt like I was playing well, had opportunities in the second set so definitely discouraging to lose that one. But I tried to stay calm, and I just really turned up the energy a little bit,” Pospisil said. “There’s so much pride on the line. We’re playing for Canada. Everyone here has committed so much to the team that we want to do well in Davis Cup. If we could wrap up this tie it would be a boost for everyone on the team.”
At two hours and 37 minutes – barely half the five hours and seven minutes Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro battled in one of the World Group semi-finals played earlier in the day in Glasgow, Scotland – Pospisil should be good to go for Saturday’s doubles although the impressive red tape job that wrapped around his right elbow and extended down to his wrist certainly has to be a bit of a concern.
"I really embraced the challenge after that and I think I just really got into it mentally, just loving the fight and trying to compete," Pospisil said in his press conference after the match. "I was creating opportunities and he was coming up with good tennis."
Pospisil and Adil Shamasdin are scheduled to play together Saturday in the potential clincher; Jarry also is expected back on court, teamed with doubles specialist Hans Podlipnik-Castillo.
Shamasdin and Podlipnik-Castillo, who know each other fairly well, have nearly equal ATP Tour doubles rankings. But Pospisil is far superior to Jarry on the doubles court. Wven though they haven’t played together often you’d expect the Canadian pair to win routinely.
But it’s Davis Cup; you never know.