Raonic propelled Canada into the second round of the Davis Cup World Group on Sunday as he beat Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets — 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 — at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
Raonic triumphed a year after he pulled out of a reverse rubber match against France, played on the same court, because of a minor knee injury. Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., replaced him and lost the decisive match of the tie.
Raonic came under intense criticism afterward because he played the following weekend at an ATP tournament in San Jose.
"I love to prove people wrong, and many people were saying maybe Davis Cup doesn't mean a lot to me — and I think I showed that it does," said Raonic.
"It sucked to hear those kind of things, that kind of doubt, and I guess it was nice to prove people wrong."
The win marked the first time that Canada has advanced to the second round of the World Group level, which is open to the top 16 countries. Canada is ranked 12th on the Davis Cup table while Spain, which lost the 2012 final to the Czech Republic, entered the weekend No. 1.
Raonic gave Canada an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five tie with one reverse singles match to play. Canada ultimately won 3-2 after Dancevic lost a later dead rubber (7-5, 6-4), which was limited to two sets, to Albert Ramos.
"It's amazing to do everything we've done," said Raonic.
"I've only been a minor part of it the last few years consistently. And to be able to have this conversation for the first time is pretty amazing."
The Spaniards are five-time Davis Cup champions but they did not have their top four players in the lineup.
David Ferrer, ranked fourth in the world, Rafael Nadal (fifth), Nicolas Almagro (11th) and Fernando Verdasco (24th) stayed home. Nadal and Almagro are recovering from injuries while Ferrer and Verdasco chose to rest.
Spanish captain Alex Corretja said the Spanish team did its best with the players available.
"But, I would say, the Canadian people should enjoy this," he said. "It's a great opportunity for them. They're a very dangerous team. They have a good chance to reach the (Davis Cup) semis.
"When you look at the score, Canada beat Spain 3-2. You don't need to look at who played."
Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said his players deserved credit for executing under pressure against a higher-ranked team. Raonic was the only player ranked higher than the Spanish contingent who competed this weekend.
"For us, we beat Spain, and we're in the (World Group) quarter-finals for the first time ever," said Laurendeau. "So we're not gonna diminish the Spanish team in any way."
"I think it still takes quite a lot of courage, resilience and determination to get through what we got through this weekend," added Raonic.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also impressed with the victory. "Congratulations to @milosraonic and our Canadian Davis Cup team on their historic win in Vancouver," he tweeted.
He was rarely tested by Garcia-Lopez, ranked 82nd in the world, who made his Davis Cup debut. Garcia-Lopez was inserted into the do-or-die match as Corretja made a late lineup change in a bid to right Spain's fortunes.
Canada entered play with a 2-1 lead and needed just one win in its final two singles matches to claim the tie.
Garcia-Lopez replaced Marcel Granollers, who was tagged as Spain's top singles player for this event. Granollers, ranked 34th in the world, was upset by Dancevic — who's ranked a distant 166th — on Friday night.
Granollers also played a gruelling doubles match Saturday that lasted almost four hours. Corretja said he replaced Granollers because he was mentally and physically tired, and the Spaniards wanted to surprise Canada.
Garcia-Lopez has a victory over Britain's Andy Murray, ranked third in the world, at an ATP Tour event in Indian Wells, Calif., and also beat compatriot Nadal at another ATP Tour competition in Chennai, India. The unheralded Spaniard has also reached the third round of Grand Slam events on four occasions, the Australian Open twice and once each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
But he struggled to return Raonic's powerful serve, which produced 18 aces. Raonic used aces to clinch the first and second sets and almost had another on the match-clinching point before he won with an overhead smash.
Garcia-Lopez tried to counter Raonic's power with several cross-court shots in a bid to get the world's 15th-ranked player running around the court. But Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., had little difficulty returning Garcia-Lopez's attempts.
Raonic left Garcia-Lopez vulnerable to several smashes, and caught the Spaniard going the wrong way a number of times with crisp volleys.
"I was impressed with how he played on the baseline," said Garcia-Lopez, noting he knew of Raonic's powerful serve, but was surprised by his baseline play.
Canada will host Italy in the quarter-finals in April.
Raonic said the full value of the victory over the depleted Spaniards won't be determined until Canada faces the Italians. But the win over Spain has brought the team closer.
"I don't have any control over what people say, but I think it will give us some more respect," said Raonic.
Vancouver is considered a strong contender to host the tie with Italy, while Calgary is also expected to serious consideration after narrowly missing out in its bid to host this event.
Players gave Tennis Canada officials input on their preferred location before team members started to scatter Sunday night. Laurendeau said he also faces difficult decisions on his next lineup.
Jesse Levine, ranked 81st in the world, will be eligible to play after officially changing his tennis nationality to Canadian from American. Levine, a dual citizen who was born in Ottawa and grew up in Florida, would be the second-highest ranked Canadian player behind Raonic.
Laurendeau indicated he expects doubles ace Daniel Nestor of Toronto to play against Italy. Nestor was feeling sick after he and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil lost Saturday's doubles event in five sets.
But the captain said Nestor, 40, shook off his illness. Nestor watched the game courtside with teammates, but was not available for comment afterward as he prepared to catch an evening flight home.
"I don't think he's going to retire in the next eight weeks or so," said Laurendeau.
Canada has now posted two straight Davis Cup wins on home courts, following up a September relegation-round win over South Africa to return to the World Group. Laurendeau wants his team to maintain its momentum as it faces a short turnaround time for the tie against Italy.
"We're very pleased about being in quarters, but we feel like we can keep on going," said Laurendeau.
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