VANCOUVER, B.C. — If Canada is to defeat Italy in this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group quarter-final tie, an upset will have to occur in at least one of the five rubbers.
Milos Raonic (world No. 16) is 3-0 in singles play at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Sports Centre, with the hard-court surface favouring his big serve and his power game.
There’s no sure thing in tennis, but if the Thornhill, Ont. native wins both of his singles matches, most likely against Andreas Seppi (No. 19) and Fabio Fognini (No. 36) on Friday and Sunday (the official draw to determine the matchups is on Thursday), then there are a few routes to Canada claiming that decisive third rubber.
One, Frank Dancevic could pull another heroic upset, as he did in February against then No. 34 Marcel Granollers — and if he does it will be a similarly unlikely feat — as both Seppi and Fognini are players of a similar calibre to Granollers.
While on paper Dancevic, ranked 189th, would never be expected to trouble either Seppi or Fognini on the ATP Tour, the Niagara Falls native seems to elevate his game when playing for his country.
Dancevic still has a losing singles record at 12-15 in Davis Cup play, but crucially his hard court record is 6-4. This contrasts with Seppi, who has a singles record of 12-11 and an even 4-4 on hard surfaces. The Italian also has a losing indoor record at 3-4.
It's not an indicator that the surface will bring the players even, but it should certainly give Dancevic that bit of confidence that a win is possible against Italy's top gun.
"Some guys raise their levels tremendously in Davis Cup," Canada captain Martin Laurendeau told reporters at UBC on Wednesday following a practice session. "That's why we got to throw out the rankings. Historically speaking, the rankings don't matter much when it comes down to just one match with all the passion and emotion."
The other route to getting that third rubber could come through the doubles pairing of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil on Sunday. Nestor remains an elite doubles player with a ranking of No. 5 in the world, while 22-year-old Pospisil is still in the early stages of his fledgling career.
The pair looked competitive against the Spanish tandem of Granollers and Marc Lopez in February, winning two of the first three sets before eventually looking outclassed in the final two sets.
After the match it was revealed that Nestor was feeling ill, which affected the 40-year-old's performance. As for Pospisil, the Vancouver native was recovering from a bout of mononucleosis which he overcame just before that tie and appeared to hit a wall in that rubber's late stages.
This time the hope for Canada is that both are fully fit and healthy.
"Every match can go either way," Pospisil said. "Daniel and I are obviously hoping that we can get our win for the team, and then whoever plays singles I'm sure will help do the same."
While the likely singles players are known for Italy, when it comes to doubles there is less certainty. Simone Bolelli is nursing a wrist injury, suffered on Mar. 23 at the Miami Masters, and that means there's a chance he won't be able to partner Fognini on Saturday.
Danielle Bracciali, a 35-year-old pro, is in Vancouver as cover should Bolelli not overcome his wrist problems by the weekend.
"Bolelli is here, so we must assume that he's in the lineup," Laurendeau said. "I don't think he would have traveled from Italy to here if he didn't think he had a chance to play. So, we're prepared to face the team that we think they're going to line-up, and come Saturday morning, an hour before the match, we'll find out."
For Pospisil, who has yet to match up against any of the possible opponents in doubles play, it changes little in terms of how he will prepare.
"I don't really know any of those guys on the doubles court," Pospisil said. "I'm just trying to touch up on my own things and trying to get sharp for Saturday."
Canada will learn the road to the semifinal after Thursday afternoon's draw at the BC Sports Hall of Fame, but regardless of the matchups, Canada is once again bullish about its chances.
"I'm confident in my team," Laurendeau said. "We have a great opportunity in front of us. The guys are all excited. They're all aware that this is a great chance that's in front of them.
"I feel it's the same dynamics and the same team spirit that was here right before Spain -- a chance to get a big win for Canada and I really feel there's no difference in the week preceding the last one.
"Everyone's really excited to get a chance to perform as well and hopefully have another win."