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MONTREAL – Tuesday was the deadline for Davis Cup teams to nominate their four-member teams for the World Group first-round ties, which be held March 4 - 6.
Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau answered part one of the looming million-dollar question by including his No. 1, Milos Raonic, among those four names.
The second part of the question – the part that really matters – will only be answered a week from Friday when the 25-year-old steps on the specially built red clay court in Guadeloupe – or doesn’t.
Vasek Pospisil, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor and Davis Cup veteran Frank Dancevic are the other three nominations.
Meanwhile, Raonic is in Los Angeles surrounded by his medical team, battling the clock to be healthy enough to be able to play at least one, ideally two, best-of-five set rubbers on red clay in the Caribbean heat and humidity.
For a player who has not played a match since losing the Australian Open singles semifinal Jan. 29 because of the micro-tear in his adductor, that’s a big challenge.
“It’s taking longer than expected. He’s able to hit, and he’s progressing slowly so that there’s no setback,” Laurendeau told Eh Game. “We’re crossing our fingers. I want my best players on the team – the whole nation does. As a captain, and as a tennis fan, I want to see him healthy and playing, for his own sake as a professional player.”
Dancevic and doubles specialist Adil Shamasdin have been in Montreal practicing on the Har-Tru courts at the national centre at Uniprix Stadium. It’s not the real thing, but it’s as close as you can get in these parts.
Dancevic, who played two Futures events in Switzerland a couple of weeks ago in an indoor hard court, has to be ready to get the call. Laurendeau said the 31-year-old from Niagara Falls started on the clay “probably earlier than anybody on the team.”
Here's what it looked like in Montreal Tuesday, with Dancevic and Shamasdin hard at work along with 15-year-old phemom Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Along with some of the coaching staff, the two will leave for Guadeloupe Wednesday. Practice partner Filip Peliwo, who is in Florida playing a small tournament (also on Har-Tru), will head there when he is eliminated. Pospisil is still alive in singles, and Nestor in doubles, at the big ATP Tour event in Dubai.
Once they’re eliminated, they will make the trip as well.
The majority of the French squad are also heading down over the next few days; Laurendeau said the practice courts in Guadeloupe were scheduled to be ready Thursday.
With or without Raonic, it’s a challenge. France has nominated four players who all have been in the top 10, and all currently are in the top 20: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon.
The choice of outdoor red clay by new French captain Yannick Noah – which required the team to host the tie in one of its overseas territories for the first time – could be called the “Milos Manoeuvre”.
“Of course when you have to play France on the road, they have several options. Yannick decided to make it very difficult for us by putting the tie on red clay – and also in a place where it’s hot and humid. He did his duty as captain to make it a little difficult for us,” Laurendeau said. “But we’re professionals, and the players constantly have to adapt on tour.
“It’s a tough task; in addition to the conditions, four players in the top 16 await us, with a fifth who isn’t bad either (Edouard Roger-Vasselin), and a captain who’s been there,” he added. “It’s a really big challenge; we knew it from the start. It will be a very difficult tie from every point of view.”
Challenges aside, the presence of a healthy Raonic can turn the tie from an arduous uphill battle to at least a possibility for the Canadian squad.
“I had to name the players (Monday), so it was important to know if there was a chance he could play. He confirmed that he’s still planning to come, to do everything he can to be ready. He wanted to be part of the line-up. He wanted to give himself a chance to play,” Laurendeau said. “If he missed his last two tournaments (in Florida last week and Acapulco this week, both on hard courts), it’s because it’s an injury that’s slow to heal. We’ll have to see on site, closer to the tie, if he can play or not.”
Laurendeau said they were open to Raonic bringing whomever he felt he needed to help him get on court.
“It’s always an option. We have our own medical team, but it’s for them also to discuss what’s best for Milos. He has brought quite a few staff over the years – anybody who allows him to be the best he can be. So we’re open to that,” he said.
Raonic will remain in L.A., continuing treatment. And the decision about when he’ll head to the Caribbean is a day-to-day one. On the priority list, getting as healthy as possible trumps the need to adapt to the surface.
“It’s too early to tell at the moment. The tie is 10 days from now, and he’s got time to continue his healing process,” Laurendeau added. “If he can, play, great. He wants to give himself that chance to be there and represent Canada.
“He wants to be on that stage.”