Canada to host Spain in Vancouver in Davis Cup World Group first-round tie

VANCOUVER – Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau says home is where the heart is.

He’s hoping a return to Vancouver for the second time in a year will enable his team to show its heart – and talent – against powerhouse Spain in a World Group first-round tie February 1-3.

Tennis Canada announced Monday that the national team will return to the city that hosted the country’s World Group first-round tie versus France earlier this year. Vancouver won a bid process that included cities Calgary and Winnipeg.

“For us, the important thing is to play at home,” said Laurendeau, following a news conference at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre at UBC, where the matches will again be played. “It’s not fun to play away. It’s always more complicated, so we’re just relieved, really, to play indoor tennis against a team we feel we can take on, for sure.”

Canada, currently No. 12 in the Davis Cup rankings, maintained its spot in the World Group with a 4-1 victory over South Africa in the World Group playoffs held in Montreal in September.

That followed a 4-1 defeat to France in the World Group first round at the indoor UBC venue, which will again have a synthetic hardcourt, last February.

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“We were trying to qualify for the World Group for so many years, over eight years in South America and Mexico, and a lot of difficult destinations and difficult teams to play,” Laurendeau said. “But we feel we belong in the World Group. It’s not a coincidence that we’re there two years in a row. Eventually, we have to play a seeded nation. We’re not seeded, so the first round is always going to be very difficult.”

But Laurendeau noted that playing on the road can hamper even the best teams, as demonstrated to Spain’s upset loss to the host Czech Republic in France over the weekend. The setback prevented the Spaniards from claiming a sixth Davis Cup crown.

A big question Monday was whether Rafael Nadal will compete for Spain against Canada. The world’s fourth-ranked player has not played since taking part in Wimbledon in June. Whether Nadal competes or not, the Canadians will have to contend with a team that has tremendous depth.

“They’ve got players that can play in altitude, on clay, indoors, outdoors. They’ve got righties, lefties,” said Laurendeau. “So we’re going to have our work cut out. If Rafa is here, we’re going to have to plan accordingly.”

Canada will counter Spain’s talent with ace Milos Raonic of Thornill, Ont., who is currently ranked No. 13 in the world, Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver, and veteran doubles star Daniel Nestor. Laurendeau said there is no doubt that Nestor, 40, who loves the Davis Cup, will play. However, Nestor’s partner in the doubles event, which has a way of determining a Davis Cup competition’s winner more often than not, remains to be seen.

He and Pospisil played in the Olympics, but the Canadian team’s elder statesman played with an injured Raonic in the last Davis Cup tie here against France. Nestor and Raonic displayed little chemistry together as they were beaten that day. Pospisil has appeared to work better with Nestor, but Laurendeau noted they lost at the Olympics and in the Davis Cup tie against South Africa.

While Nestor’s spot in doubles is certain, Laurendeau indicated his partner will be the player that is playing the best at the time.

“Nothing is given,” said Laurendeau. “You’ve gotta go with who’s playing well that week, and then you’ve gotta make some calls.”

He took the same approach when choosing Raonic against France and chalked up the loss to the unfortunate timing of Raonic’s injury, which forced him to miss the premier singles match, against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, who dispatched replacement Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., without much difficulty after the veteran fared well in the early going.

Laurendeau said it will be important for his players to stay in good health for the event that occurs early in the season. Last February, Raonic was forced to withdraw from the last match of the tie against Tsonga because of a knee injury that did not prove to be serious.

“We need to make sure that we have very good off-season training so that everybody trains hard and is super-fit,” said Laurendeau. “The guys are starting with a Grand Slam (the Australian Open) and a Davis Cup before Feb. 3. It’s big tennis very early in the calendar, and it’s very demanding physically so we’ve gotta make sure that everybody’s healthy. We saw, when you don’t have your best players, it’s not like we have the same depth as France or Argentina or Spain. So we need our top players to be very fit and healthy, and then we feel we can take it on.”

Laurendeau feels the opportunity to play at home again with more experience under their sneakers will help make his players more competitive. In addition to core players Raonic, Pospisil and Nestor, the captain plans to deploy Filip Peliwo of North Vancouver, currently the world’s top-ranked junior, somehow.

He clearly lacks the experience to go against the world’s best on the sport’s top level. But Laurendeau said it’s important to include Peliwo, who trained with the squad last February in Vancouver and during the September win over South Africa in Montreal.

“In one year, he’s gaining tremendously,” said Laurendeau. “There’s still a green side to Filip, but he’s gotta be with the team.”

Meanwhile, Gavin Ziv, the event’s director, said last February’s tie in Vancouver sparked interest from potential hosts from the East Coast to the West Coast. Vancouver was ultimately chosen because it gave the Canadian squad the best chance to win.

Canada’s chance to host came by sheer luck on a coin toss. The three straight Davis Cup home ties have followed a trio of road competitions in Mexico, Ecuador and Israel.

“It seems to go in waves, and now we’re riding the wave,” said Laurendeau.

Notes: The UBC venue will be expanded to about 6,500 seats this time after last year’s event sold out quickly. … The B.C. government has provided a $100,000 hosting support grant to Tennis Canada. The group also hopes to get funding from the City of Vancouver.