It’s been so long since Canada had a true tennis star it seems rather unbelievable that two could have arrived in the same year. Yet that would appear to be the case. In the first half of 2011, it was all about Milos Raonic rocketing up the international men’s rankings before being injured. That brought us to this weekend in the grinding heat of the Middle East. With Raonic unable to deliver, it became all about Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil, the 21-year-old with the cherubic smile and constitution of a marathoner who almost single-handedly lifted Canada back into the top echelon of tennis nations. What his hometown Canucks couldn’t do in June, this Canuck did in September. The youngster they call “Horse” hoisted Canada’s Davis Cup squad on his broad back and carried it back into the World Group of this annual 132-country competition for the first time since 2004 and only the second time in two decades. On Friday, Pospisil outlasted Israel’s best singles player in a remarkable five-hour, five-set joust before one of the most boisterous and sometimes nasty tennis audiences you’ll ever see. On Saturday, he teamed with ancient warrior Daniel Nestor to upset the crack Israeli doubles team. Finally, on Sunday, Pospisil delivered a Mediterranean exhibition of power tennis to bludgeon his way past Israel’s Amir Weintraub and give Canada a berth with the world’s big boys next year. “Vasek beat the state of Israel on his own,” marvelled Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau. In all, Pospisil has a 6-1 Davis Cup match record in 2011 as Canada won consecutive ties on the road in Mexico, Ecuador and now Israel. That should put him in the conversation for the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, wouldn’t you say? It’s not just about Pospisil and this weekend and this victory, however. This is now a Canadian team with enormous possibilities, with two sturdy young singles players in Raonic and Pospisil and a chance to compete with very best tennis-playing countries on the planet. “That’s the most exciting thing, how much potential we have with these two young studs,” said the 39-year-old Nestor, who was there in ‘04 when Canada lost to Holland in its last World Group appearance. The next Davis Cup step will become known this Wednesday when the draw is held for the 16-team World Group in Thailand. Canada will play one of the top eight countries, either at home or away in mid-February. “We’re there now with the best,” smiled Raonic afterwards. In retrospect, perhaps we should have all given Raonic and Pospisil a little more notice 13 months ago when they stunned the superstar tandem of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a doubles match at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Then, it seemed like a meaningless, if fun, moment. Now, it seems like it was a warning shot across the bow of the tennis world. Canada went into Sunday’s final reverse singles without Raonic, who said he simply didn’t feel well enough to play even though his surgically repaired hip, he maintained, was just fine. That left Peter Polansky to take on Israel’s No. 1, Dudi Sela, and Polansky fell in three sets. With the two countries tied with two match wins apiece, Pospisil and Weintraub stepped on court just before the dinner hour on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, each hoping to play hero for their country. Pospisil, ranked 124th in the world with a bullet, served brilliantly from the beginning and broke Weintraub in his first service game. He won the first set in 32 minutes, then got bogged down in the second set and fell behind by a break as Weintraub dug in. With the Israeli serving for the set, Pospisil broke back, then won a tiebreak with a sizzling forehand passing shot to pull ahead two sets to none. Pospisil kept hammering aces, 27 to Weintraub’s one, giving the Canadian “free” points on a hot, muggy night when his energy reserves were nearly depleted. Serving for the match at 5-4, he fought off one break point, then ripped a forehand past Weintraub deep into the court to end it with a 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-4 verdict. “I couldn’t believe it was over,” said an exhausted Pospisil. “Just a huge relief.” As he stood talking, Pospisil’s legs began to cramp, the residue of nearly 11 hours on court in the brutal Israeli heat over three days. “I’m done,” he smiled wearily. “I think I’ll take a few days off.” Fair enough. After 12 gruelling sets of Davis Cup play in 72 hours, the kid deserves a break.
After all, Canada’s likely going to be seeing a lot of this young stallion in the coming years.
By Damien CoxSports Columnist