When Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor pulled out of Canada’s latest Davis Cup tie versus France, it was going to be an uphill battle to beat France. France had sent all of their top singles players (and none of their top doubles players by the way) to an outdoor clay court in oppressive heat and humidity – all the ingredients that are not in Canada’s favour.
As the weekend progressed, it became clear that France (with or without Canada’s top singles and doubles players) had come to give Canada a thrashing and draw a line in the clay to stake their claim for the glory of the Davis Cup in November. What also became clear was that the team that Canada sent was battered and bruised and in no shape to contend for any tie – France or even one of the zonal countries. Philip Bester proved to be the strong point for the team as Vasek Pospisil was felled by injury and the humidity, and Frank Dancevic was felled by illness and an injured shoulder.
Last year, when Raonic and Pospisil didn’t show up for the tie versus Belgium (again, due to injury), the tie resulted in much the same way – Canada didn’t win a single point. In an all too familiar story that is now clear, if one or both of Canada’s top players is out, so goes the tie. This is almost as distressing as the annual injuries that have plagued Canada’s top singles players (including Eugenie Bouchard) over the past five years. The injuries are of no surprise. Both Raonic and Pospisil have big bodies that are more prone to injury than more compact players. The win-at-any-cost, stretch-for-every-shot, pulverize-the-ball, push-your-body-past-the-line-of-reason kind of tennis that we are seeing today is not good for the vast majority of professional tennis players. Raonic and Pospisil are prime examples.
Without Raonic, Pospisil, Nestor and Bouchard (in Fed Cup), Canada has no backup team B to fill in for them. You have to go down the rankings into the 200s to find the next best-ranked Canadian players. With teams like France, the United States, the Czech Republic and Spain who have multiple players in the top 100 (and even in the top 50) Canada is left at a distinct disadvantage. Spain and France’s B teams are really second A teams. To be frank, Canada has no depth in professional tennis and it shows in team competitions like Davis Cup and Fed Cup when even one player can’t play. If Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard wouldn’t have arrived on the scene, Canada would have to rely on Daniel Nestor for world-class results. With the brief exceptions of Frank Dancevic and Aleksandra Wozniak, Nestor has been the bridge between the days of Carling Bassett and Helen Kelesi to today’s top Canadian talent.
There is hope for more depth in Canadian tennis. There is an incredibly talented group of Canadian junior tennis players currently at the top of the junior game. What is even more hopeful for Canadian tennis is that this group came along before Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard made it big. There is yet another group of young Canadian tennis players who have been inspired by Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard who have taken up the game and will quickly follow in the footsteps of the juniors ready to step onto the main tour.
This first wave of juniors is a good 3 to 4 years away from stepping onto the main tour. Even though Canada needs more depth, the worst thing to do is to push these promising players onto the big stage. Professional tennis has become a rough and tumble sport. These junior players need to grow – their games and their minds and bodies. Patience is the key at the moment. Canadian tennis fans will just have to grit their teeth and cross their fingers that their top players will find a way to win without sacrificing their bodies in today’s style of slash and burn tennis.
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