BAIE-MAHAULT, Guadeloupe – In the end, no one wins 13 sets in row against the Canadian Davis Cup squad.
It took Frank Dancevic, struggling and injured from the first moments of the fifth and final match Sunday of Canada’s World Group first-round tie against France, to get his team on the board – sort of.
Dancevic managed to squeeze out the first set against world No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6 (7-5 in the tiebreaker) before consulting with the medical staff and calling it a weekend.
“After his match Friday, Frank caught a case of turista, so he’s been dizzy since then, very weak. He was really in survival mode even last night. But when you come in front of a crowd like that, it gave him a bit of energy. So he was going to try to put on a show,” Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said. “Then, in the warmup or the first game he pulled a pectoral muscle and the more it went, the more it deteriorated. He was playing in a lot of pain and didn’t think he could carry on but after a few treatments, they stopped the bleeding.”
Laurendeau said that there was a lot more tennis to come even in that match, and Dancevic has tournaments coming up; the risk was that he would tear the muscle and miss a few weeks.
“It’s too bad, because he really wanted to keep going. He likes playing Jo. He’s not someone who intimidates him; we saw that (in Vancouver in 2012). Jo’s not a natural clay-courter, so Frank can play tennis the way he likes it, a little bit like on a hard court,” Laurendeau added. “And he wanted to give the fans a show. Moments like this a rare in the Futures or Challengers, and Frank has a showbiz side; he really wanted to maximize the opportunity to play in such a great ambience. But it was the wise decision under the circumstances.”
In the first match of the final day, Philip Bester substituted for Vasek Pospisil and was beaten 6-1, 7-6 (4) to Richard Gasquet.
So the final score was France 5, Canada 0, a sweep. In the end, though, whether it was a nail-biting 3-2 victory or a shutout, the result is that Canada lost, and must play another relegation tie in September to remain in the Davis Cup’s prestigious World Group.
The team did it in 2014 after losing in the first round to Japan in Tokyo – a tie Milos Raonic had to miss because of injury and Vasek Pospisil was nominated for, but didn’t play because of his back woes. They defeated Colombia in Halifax.
They had to do it in 2012 as well after losing in the first round to France in Vancouver. On that occasion, they drew South Africa, which had to decline hosting the tie because of financial concerns. So that, too, was in essence a home tie, and a routine victory.
This September’s playoff tie might be a fair bit more complicated. The Canadians could meet the usual South American suspects but they also could play Spain which, somewhat incredibly, is vying to get back into the World Group after being relegated. Also potentially looming are teams like Ukraine, Austria and Slovakia, which boast several quality singles players. And Canada could be on the road again.
They will know more when the draw is made after the zonal playoffs in mid-July.
Laurendeau noted that there was a lot of tennis to be played between now and September – three Grand Slams (the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), the Rogers Cup and other Masters 1000 tournaments and, this year, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Given the absences for this tie, it likely will be a challenge once again to field a full, healthy team. And without that team, as he knows all too well, even opposing squads without the complement of top-20 players France has will be a tall order.
For now, all he can do is keep an eye on his players, cross his fingers for good health and that the Canadians get a favourable draw.
He can also savour the few bright spots against France.
“There were a few 7-6 sets; at least the last one was in our favour. In the doubles we had two chances to win a set or two and prolong the match. But it was a tall order. The players fought well and gave everything against a formidable team,” Laurendeau said.
“I think France has everything to go very far. And now that they’ve beaten us, they owe it to us to win the Davis Cup,” he added, laughing for perhaps the first time all weekend.