NEWS
02/10/2012 07:13 EST | Updated 04/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Raonic defeats Benneteau as Canada evens France 1-1 at Davis Cup tie

VANCOUVER - This time, Milos Raonic got the better of Julien Benneteau.

Raonic defeated Benneteau in straight sets Friday night to pull Canada even at 1-1 with France after the first day of their Davis Cup tie.

Raonic, a 21-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., who is ranked 29th in the world, downed the No. 35-ranked Benneteau 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 before a sellout, predominantly red-and-white clad, flag-waving crowd of 5,500 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. The win came after Raonic lost to Benneteau in the first round of the Paris Masters last November.

"I kept a really good flat line the whole match with not only with my physical (game), but also with my mental," said Raonic. "I think that's what really paid off."

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had staked France to a 1-0 lead with a straight-sets victory over Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., earlier Friday.

Canada is playing at the World Group level for the first time in eight years. The winner of the best-of-five tie will play for the quarter-finals against the winner of a U.S.-Switzerland series also being played this weekend and secure a return to this stage of the competition in 2013. The loser will be forced to compete in a playoff round to avoid relegation to the Americas Zone.

"Basically, the two No. 1s took care of business today for either country," said Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau. "I thought Tsonga played a flawless match, and Milos, he just seemed like in the zone zone on his serve, and everything was flowing very nicely."

Canada, ranked 14th in the world, is an obvious underdog to fourth-ranked France, which has four players ranked in the top 35 in singles. Raonic is the lone Canadian in that group while the other host-team players rank outside the top 100.

Raonic easily won the first set, but had to battle against the 30-year-old Bennetau in the second. Deadlocked at 4-4, Raonic broke Benneteau's serve to go ahead 5-4 and then took the set with the next game.

With the final set tied 5-5, Raonic broke Benneteau's serve again to pull ahead for good. Benneteau said the rising Canadian star's service return was "very strong" compared to their earlier match, when the Frenchman said it needed improvement.

"He didn't miss a lot," said Benneteau. "I tried to push him and to stay (in) the match and to have more opportunities to win points and to see what happened, but he was stronger today. I had nothing (I could) do at the end."

In the final game, Raonic double-faulted on his first match-point attempt, forced deuce and then took the match with an ace on his second serve.

Pospisil, meanwhile, had the surface and favourable crowd he wanted, but his usually reliable serve let him down against the heavily-favoured Tsonga, who is ranked sixth in the world.

"It's tough to play without my big weapon," said Pospisil. "I need to serve well in big matches like this."

Pospisil, ranked 115th, went ahead 3-2 in the second set, but Tsonga rallied to win the next four games in a row.

Tsonga said he tried to use his ranking to his advantage and cause Pospisil early discomfort.

"Today, I'm sixth in the world," Tsonga said after the match. "If I can put a lot of pressure on him at the beginning, that's tough for him."

Pospisil committed 12 unforced errors in the first set en route to 36 in total. Tsonga's almost flawless first set contained just four unforced errors, and he made a modest 16 in the entire match.

After winning a coin toss to host the event, Canada is hoping its chosen hard court, the French squad's lengthy travel and partisan spectators work to its advantage. However, the boisterous crowd could not help Pospisil much as he struggled to counter Tsonga's strong serve.

Meanwhile, Tsonga had little difficulty handling Pospisil's serve, which is considered one of the strongest parts of the Canadian's steady game.

Pospisil landed only 53 per cent of his first serves compared to 69 per cent for Tsonga. The Frenchman broke Pospil's serve five times on 11 opportunities while the Canadian failed on his lone chance.

The turning point of the match came in the seventh game of the second set. With the set tied 3-3 and Tsonga holding the advantage, Pospisil double-faulted to give Tsonga the lead, set and, ultimately, the match.

When Pospisil wasn't struggling with his serve, Tsonga frustrated him by racing to drop shots and scoring winners. Tsonga felt getting to the tough spots just in front of the net made a big difference.

"It's a good part of my game," he said. "I run fast, and when I do, I can change the way of the point."

Notes: Before play began, a moment of silence was held for a Prince George, B.C., family who died in a motor vehicle collision in the B.C. Interior while en route to the competition. Matt Altizer, his wife Leah, their children - Jonathan, 14 and Emily, 12, and Matt's sister Heather Kress, were travelling south on Highway 97, when their SUV collided with a tractor-trailer near McLeese Lake, about 200 kilometres from their hometown. ... It's the second Davis Cup meeting between France and Canada. The French won the first competition in 1966. ... The doubles portion of the competition goes Saturday with Pospisil and Daniel Nestor of Toronto slated to face Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Nestor is ranked third in the world in doubles while Llodra is sixth. But both Laurendeau and French captain Forget indicated their partners could change.