VANCOUVER – It all went pretty much as expected, if not as planned, or hoped.
And after the first day of their first-round World Group Davis Cup tie, Canada and Japan are tied 1-1, with the crucial doubles match to come on Saturday.
Up first, top Canadian Milos Raonic took care of Tatsuma Ito, ranked No. 85, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in an hour and 27 minutes. Then Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori, ranked a career-best No. 4 in the ATP Tour rankings, did enough to get past Canadian No. 2 Vasek Pospisil, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
"The two No. 1s played respectively to their rankings. Milos went out and had a really good match, just too good. Kei competed well and came up with some shots. He did his job as No. 1," Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said.
Raonic hadn't played an official match in a few weeks, not since he was eliminated early at an ATP Tour event in Marseille. But he had enough intense practice with teammate Pospisil during the week that he didn't miss a beat, although there might have been a little rust on the serve.
Raonic outclassed Ito in just about every department – out-acing him 17 to two, for starters, and 42 winners to 15. He also converted six of seven break-point opportunities, and didn't give up a single one on his own serve, despite an uncharacteristic seven double-faults.
In the end, Ito couldn't make a dent in it. Putting aside the double faults, Raonic lost just three of 22 points on his second serve. Meanwhile, Ito's serve didn't trouble Raonic in the least.
It was, as previously mentioned, to be expected given the gap in their rankings.
"I think started off well from the beginning," said Raonic, who came into his press conference already armed with the statistics about how many serve returns he put into play.
Asked if Raonic was the toughest server he had ever faced, Ito stopped, thought about it for a moment or two, smiled and concurred wholeheartedly with with the notion.
"I tried to put it (it in play) in every point, but I cannot touch. Even on second serve, he's also good in speed, someimes 200 (km/hour, and sometimes 180. He mixed them, sometimes he came into the body. It was tough to receive," Ito said.
The second part of the double-header was the one where the underdog had a little more hope about shocking the Japanese.
Pospisil went into his match against Nishikori saying all the right things. But in the end, the final result also was to be expected given the gap in their rankings.
"Kei is one of the toughest guys to play in a quick surface, with his style of play. There's no denying that; he’s great on quick surfaces," said Pospisil, who found that he didn't quite have enough time to set up the points to his liking – i.e., stay in the point until he got a forehand he could drive.
"Regardless, I had opportunities in the second set, I think I got unlucky to lose that second set. He didn’t have any break points, I at least had two. Some unlucky let cords at bad times. I think if I win that set, it’s a different match," he added.
Pospisil was one good shot away from earning a set point twice in that set. But the breaks didn't fall his way. And once he lost it – even though he recuperated an early break of serve to briefly get things back on even terms in the third set – the plans and hopes slowly melted into the background as the expected, well, occurred.
Although Nishikori wasn't originally listed to play doubles on Saturday, the "official doubles players" in Davis Cup, with some exceptions, are often not much more than photo opportunities for the two remaining players on the team.
With the Canadians, though, there wasn't really any debate that Pospisil and Daniel Nestor would be the pair. In his post-match interview on court, Nishikori certainly seemed to intimate that he would be out there on Saturday (the match starts at 1 p.m PST). For his part, Pospisil was confident that he would see Nishikori on the other side of the court.
"The doubles, we knew, is going to be a key factor. And it shaped up that way. Vasek, I thought, did a good job to just go after Kei. He played to win, believed he could win, just came up short. But I thought the effort was good," Laurendeau said. "We feel good about our team going in, whether Kei plays or not."