BRITISH COLUMBIA

Canada's Davis Cup team returns to Vancouver for first-round tie against Japan

12/03/2014 02:20 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Martin Laurendeau and Canada's Davis Cup team have fond memories of the West Coast.

Having spent years toiling at the international tennis tournament's regional level, Canada qualified for the World Group in 2012 and hosted France in first-round play.

While the visitors won the tie 4-1 at the University of British Columbia, Laurendeau says the result was a watershed moment for a young Canadian team that included Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

"It was a very important turn for us in the sense that we got our feet wet into the World Group again," said Laurendeau. "For our young guys, Vasek and Milos, it was really important they go through that as a learning curve and a reference."

Canada went on to make it all the way to the World Group semifinal in 2013 for the first time ever after victories over Spain and Italy at UBC, and will look to recapture that energy in March when the country hosts Japan in World Group first-round action at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

"It's reassuring for us to go to a place where we've had a lot of success, where we know the crowd is phenomenal, where we get a court that plays to our advantage and just have an opportunity to keep creating history," Laurendeau said at Wednesday's announcement. "We had a good run last year and we want to do better, we want to go further, and we're going to start with Japan."

The tie that will take place from March 6 to 8 is a rematch of the countries' 2014 first-round meeting last winter, which Japan won 4-1.

"There's a great sense of familiarity coming back here," said Laurendeau, who was without Raonic and Pospisil in Tokyo because of injury. "Players do like to go back to a place where they've had some good successes. It's a bit comforting, in a way."

As hosts, Canada has the opportunity to select the surface and the setup of the 5,000-seat venue, which is critical when taking into account big hitters like Raonic and Pospisil.

"This is a stadium that suits our team very well," said Laurendeau. "We create the conditions of play that we want to create. That's the No. 1 thing about Davis Cup and having Davis Cup at home — the balls, the court, the speed, the crowd.

"Right now we have power players. We have guys that have big serves and they hit the ball hard and like fast conditions so we have to make sure we at least have that and take it from there."

Canada, which lost to Serbia in the 2013 semis in Belgrade, is competing in the World Group for the fourth straight year. After losing to Japan last winter, Canada beat Colombia 3-2 in September in the World Group playoffs in Halifax to remain with the top 16 countries in the world.

Although the players taking part in the Japan tie that includes four singles and one doubles match will be named at a later date, there should be plenty of firepower.

Raonic, a 23-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., currently sits at No. 8 in the world rankings, while Japan's Kei Nishikori is three spots better in fifth.

Raonic lost to Nishikori three times in singles play in 2014, but did beat him in the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

"We've got a lot of footage of him and Milos going at it," said Laurendeau. "We're not going to win this Davis Cup by default or guys not showing up. We want to beat the best players in the world, we want to earn that title, and so we expect tough competition. That's what drives the team."

Barring injury, the rest of Canada's team should include Vancouver's Pospisil — a 24-year-old who was ranked as high as 25th this year and currently sits 53rd — along with 30-year-old Davis Cup veteran Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and 42-year-old Daniel Nestor, the eight-time Grand Slam doubles champion from Toronto.

"We have a lot of depth," said Laurendeau. "If our team is healthy I think we can really beat any team out there, especially in Canada."

The country's Davis Cup captain since 2004 and a member of the team during his playing days, the 50-year-old Laurendeau said the Canadians know they have yet to reach their full potential on the world stage.

"We're aware of history. We know what we've done and we know we can do better," he said. "Making that semifinal run (in 2013) gave us a taste of what we can do and how we can get it to the next level.

"We know we can make semifinals or better. That's one of our goals, to better that, and that's very exciting."

Notes: Japan is 6-0 against Canada in Davis Cup play, but prior to the last meeting the countries hadn't played since 1938. ... UBC also announced Wednesday that tennis greats John McEnroe and Pete Sampras will take part in a PowerShares Series event in Vancouver on May 2.

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