VANCOUVER – Daniel Nestor has been playing Davis Cup for 23 years, nearly as long as partner Vasek Pospisil has been on this earth.
But that doesn’t mean he’s somehow immune to pressure.
Two fairly obscure Japanese players – Yasutaka Ushiyama, ranked No. 222 in doubles and Go Soeda, ranked No. 369 – gave the two past Wimbledon champions everything they could handle before Nestor and Pospisil finally prevailed 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to give Canada a 2-1 lead in its first-round World Group Davis Cup tie.
To lose the key doubles rubber would have meant a tough, tough ask on Sunday. By the margin of a couple of well-struck returns at the 11th hour, it didn’t happen.
“I felt it was a bit of a roller-coaster match, obviously tough for me because I’m not really in a doubles rhythm and I didn’t play my best,” Pospisil said. “But I played well when we needed to. and credit to Danny, he played solid the whole match and really kept it together.”
That was most kind of Pospisil; Nestor admitted he most definitely didn’t keep it together in the second set, when things just fell apart and Soeda and Ushiyama rolled to tie it at one set all.
“Early in the match, it was kind of my fault, being the experienced guy, getting a little frustrated because they were playing well. It happens a lot; you’re playing guys in Davis Cup and you have to expect that they’ll play their best. Sometimes I get – not surprised, maybe a little frustrated, because you want it to go more straightforward. There’s a reason you’re ranked higher and you want them to just kind of fold. That doesn’t happen.
“For sure, for Vasek I want to spend as little time on court as possible, and they’re not really obliging. So it gets frustrating,” he added.
A positive chat in the locker room after that second set put things back on kilter. But the Japanese kept playing well – particularly on returns. They hit screaming winners, even on first serves, often painting the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Pospisil wasn’t putting too many returns into play. And both Pospisil and Nestor looked a little casual on a few volleys early in games, which extended those games and put them in a few dicey situations.
Pospisil also had his shoulder worked on during a couple of the changeovers, first the back of the shoulder, then the front. He said it was just a bit of tightness, something he could work out, and nothing to be concerned about.
The fifth set had a different feel to it. Certainly it was possible the Canadians could lose, but somehow it never felt as though they would lose.
The first hold to open was comfortable, with Pospisil serving two aces. Nestor also held.
At 2-3, a 40-love lead turned into deuce. But they held.
Then, a little flurry of brilliance. From 3-all, deuce, the Canadians won 10 straight points. After a double-fault to make it 30-all in that game, Nestor pulled out two huge first serves to hold. Then the Canadians broke Soeda’s serve at love – with Soeda’s double fault sealing the deal.
Then Pospisil, who by this point was fully engaged, held his own serve at love.
It was a big enough moment that the phlegmatic Nestor even lifted Pospisil up and hugged him. This from a guy who, when he has won Grand Slam titles, sometimes offered little more than a taciturn pat on the shoulder to his partner.
“I’m a little bit upset that I let things get to me a little bit in the match today, but at the same time I’m happy that I found a way during the match, with the help of Vasek, of staying positive and getting us going,” Nestor said.
“My goal this year is to step up my game in Davis Cup. I felt like I kind of let the team down a little bit, last year I didn’t win a match. Obviously there’s two guys out there, but when Vasek’s playing good doubles he’s one of the best in the world,” he added. “I’m trying to keep up with these guys now; it’s a little bit different than it ever was. That was a lesson, a little bit, today. I feel fortunate a little bit to have won, considering how well our opponents were playing.”
Most expected the Japanese to make a lineup change and put in Kei Nishikori. He didn’t play.
“I was surprised. I think some of the guys were too. We were expecting a switch – especially the way he played in Tokyo last year. He was really inspired. He was all over the court. For a guy who doesn’t play regularly on tour, he’s really comfortable playing doubles,” Laurendeau said. “But as Daniel said, it’s Davis Cup, throw out the rankings, the guys come out swinging.”
Nestor wasn’t convinced the opposition would have been any tougher with Nishikori in.
“Realistically I don’t know if the level would have been that much better if he played. Maybe it would even have been better for us, because then we would perhaps have handled the great play a little bit better and expected it more, mentally been a little more prepared for it,” he said.
Had Nestor and Pospisil lost, Canada would have had to win both singles rubbers on Sunday. That meant Milos Raonic would have no choice but to beat Nishikori, a player he has met three times in the last five months with all of the matches going the distance – and is 2-4 against in his career.
Assuming that victory – a big assumption – it would have been up to Pospisil, who would also face a must-win against Tatsuma Ito or Soeda.
Now, they need only win one of the two to advance to the quarter-finals.
“Hopefully it allows Milos to breathe a little easier, and help him begin the match, even it’s a little percentage, a bit more relaxed so he can be loose and play his game a little more comfortably,” Laurendeau said. “This is the kind of match that MiIos enjoys, a lot on the line. And so far, he’s delivered. It’s going to be a beauty tomorrow.”