Raonic's return big boost to Canada's Davis Cup hopes
Milos Raonic was not going to miss another Davis Cup tie. Not if he could help it.
The Canadian will play in his first Davis Cup tie since 2015 when he takes the court against Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands on Friday afternoon. He'll be followed on to the court by Canada's Denis Shapovalov and Robin Haase, who will play in the tie's second rubber.
This tennis season has been hard on Raonic physically. He withdrew from the Monte Carlo Masters with a right-knee injury in April, then he had issues with the same leg in the Wimbledon quarterfinals as he lost to American John Isner. Most recently, he needed treatment on his back during his Round of 16 loss to Isner at the U.S. Open on Sept. 4.
Raonic re-committed to Tennis Canada that he would be playing against the Netherlands in Toronto as quickly as he could after the back issues flared up against Isner.
"As soon as I got cleared," said Raonic on confirming his Davis Cup participation. "Pretty much the following 48 hours after the match with Isner, that everything was OK."
Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is the top-ranked Canadian on the ATP Tour, rising up to No. 20 worldwide after his performance at the U.S. Open. He's missed every Davis Cup since 2015's 3-2 win over Japan in Vancouver due to injury and his inclusion on the team has helped make it what many have touted as Canada's best-ever Davis Cup entry.
Shapovalov, a 19-year-old phenom from Richmond Hill, Ont., is 34th in the ATP Tour's singles rankings. Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil will team up on Saturday in the doubles rubber, facing Matwe Middelkoop and Jean-Julien Rojer.
"(Haase) is definitely a tough match for me, Robin's an incredible player, he's been playing real well over the summer, he's got some good wins under his belt a lot of confidence," said Shapovalov, who lost to Haase in the third round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto last month. "It's definitely not going to be easy, but at the same time I've had a really good summer as well."
Nestor's final Davis Cup
The 46-year-old Nestor, ranked 135th in doubles, is playing in his final Davis Cup. Pospisil has been focusing on his singles career so his doubles ranking has slumped to 1,253, but he peaked at No. 4 in 2015.
The singles matchups will flip on Sunday, with Raonic playing Haase and Shapovalov taking on de Bakker.
Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime, 18, is Canada's reserve. He's ranked No. 136 on the ATP Tour but has had moments of brilliance this season, including earning his way through qualifiers into the U.S. Open's main draw.
"It's exciting. We've got two young guys here since I last played that have been playing incredibly well over the past 18 months or so," said Raonic, gesturing to Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime at a news conference at Exhibition Place, where the event will be held at Coca-Cola Coliseum — home of the AHL's Toronto Marlies. "We're all excited for this. We're excited it's here in downtown Toronto, as well."
Haase is top Dutch player in the tie, ranked 44th in the world. De Bakker is No. 236, while Rojer and Middelkopp are 20th and 33rd on the ATP Tour's doubles rankings, respectively.
"It's been said that Canada's team has never been so strong, ever, so it's going to be a tough test," said Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis. "We're looking at it one match at a time and every match we can win. It's going to be difficult, but I believe we can do it."
The winner of the tie will earn a spot in the qualification round to be played in February of 2019 that will decide the countries that will compete in the final at the end of the season as part of the new Davis Cup format set to begin next year.