Canada’s unlikely Davis Cup run ended 3–2 at the semifinal stage last Sunday in Belgrade, but not without a heroic battle.
Canada held a 2–1 lead going into Sunday’s reverse singles matches. It was where they knew they had to be after a remarkable comeback in doubles in which they won the fifth set 10–8. They had put themselves in position to have a chance at reaching the final.
But on Sunday, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic made quick work of Canada’s No. 1 Milos Raonic to set up a decisive fifth match between Canada’s Vasek Pospisil and Janko Tipsarevic.
Tipsarevic lived up to his world No. 23 ranking by dispatching an under-strength Pospisil 7–6, 6–2, 7–6. Tipsarevic, who reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open, lost to Raonic in the second match 10–8 in the fifth set.
The final point summed up the weekend as both Pospisil and Tipsarevic gave it their all. Both ended down on the red clay with the Canadian hurting his ankle and lying in pain.
Pospisil fought off four match points in the third set tiebreak, but couldn’t extend the match against the in-form Serb.
“We put ourselves in a position to win,” said Canadian Davis Cup tennis coach Martin Laurendeau in an interview with Sportsnet at the conclusion of the weekend.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him [Tipsarevic] play,” Laurendeau said.
The visibly emotional coach fought back tears.
“I’m very proud of my guys. Our run ended, but we showed what we’re capable of.”
And about his ankle, Pospisil tweeted on Monday: “MRI results revealed no tears. Should be back in competition 7-10 days from now if rehab goes well.”
Battle of the No. 1s
Djokovic and Raonic are good friends on and off the court; both speak the same language and are originally from Montenegro.
“He’s a great guy, very committed, very professional,” Djokovic told Sportsnet about Raonic. “We get along really well. Maybe we can form a rivalry in the future.”
Just four days before taking on Pospisil in the first match on an indoor red clay surface in Serbia, Djokovic was battling Rafael Nadal on a hard court in New York for the U.S. Open title.
But the “Djoker” easily disposed of Pospisil and quickly asserted his superiority over Raonic but the Canadian would not give ground initially. The first set was decided in a tiebreak that the Serb won easily.
The turning point in the Raonic-Djokovic took place early in the second set. After going down an early break to the Serbian No. 1, Raonic earned triple break point on the Djokovic serve.
In the first set, Raonic broke Djokovic right after dropping serve, but the Serb would have none of that in the second set. Djokovic erased the three break points and held serve. He went on to break Raonic once more.
Djokovic won sets two and three 6–2.
“He’s No. 1 for a reason,” Raonic told Sportsnet about Djokovic. “He started playing very loose,” Raonic said about Djokovic’s play after he survived the triple break point.”
“It was one of the crucial games in the match,” Djokovic said. “I got big support from the crowd. The advantage of a home court means a lot in this competition.”
Laurendeau echoed Raonic’s comments. “He played a flawless match. That’s why he’s world No. 1.”
It was never going to be easy against a team of Serbia’s quality on their home court. Canada had a strong contingent of traveling supporters, but Djokovic and Tipsarevic let their rackets make all the noise on Sunday.
Nevertheless, reaching the semifinal of Davis Cup is something Canada had not done since 1913 when there were only four teams in the competition.
“We ventured into new heights as the Canadian Davis Cup team. This is where we want to be, this is where we belong,” Raonic tweeted on Monday.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports