VANCOUVER - Martin Laurendeau's men were at a significant disadvantage the last time Canada met Japan in Davis Cup tennis.
With both Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil out injured, the overmatched Canadians fell 4-1 in Tokyo thanks in large part to the dominance of Kei Nishikori.
But a full roster and a home crowd has Laurendeau hoping for a much different result when the two countries meet for another best-of-five series in World Group first-round play at the University of British Columbia.
"All our guys are healthy," the Canadian captain said after Thursday's draw. "They're all playing well."
Canada beat Spain and Italy at the 5,000-seat Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre back in the 2013 competition, making it all the way to the semfinals.
"The fans have been fantastic here in Vancouver," added Laurendeau. "It's one of the reasons we're back. We can count on them. They do make a difference and this court suits our big-hitting servers."
Ranked sixth in the world, Raonic will kick things off Friday in the first singles match against No. 85 Tatsuma Ito, before Pospisil faces a tough test in Nishikori, who is fourth on the ATP Tour.
"I know I'm going to have my hands full. I'm definitely the underdog, there's no doubt about that," said 24-year-old Pospisil, who is ranked 62nd and will be playing in front of his hometown fans. "At the same time I do think I can win.
"It's going to be a tough, tough task, but I can do it."
Pospisil and Toronto's Daniel Nestor will team up against Go Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama in Saturday's doubles match before the tie returns to singles action on Sunday with Raonic versus Nishikori followed by Pospisil against Ito.
Teams can substitute players in and out up to an hour before matches, and Laurendeau said he fully expects Nishikori to play in the doubles match, something he did when Japan beat Canada at the same stage of the competition 13 months ago.
"You've got to go with your best players. If you want to win this tie or this Davis Cup, you go with your best assets, and they've got to get the job done," said Laurendeau, who has Pospisil slated for three matches as well. "It's a tough assignment, but they've done it before. They look forward to these kind of weekends."
Raonic and Nishikori have met five times on tour, with the latter holding a 3-2 edge, and barring a sweep of the first three matches, Sunday's mouth-watering encounter between two of the best players on the planet could decide the tie.
"If it does get to that point, it's really an opportunity for one of us to close and another one to keep their team alive," said Raonic, a 24-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. "There's obviously going to be high stakes on that match."
Nishikori, who lost to Raonic in an Australian Open warmup tournament in January, said he looks forward to meeting the hard-serving Canadian on the fast court at UBC.
"We always play long matches," said the 25-year-old Nishikori, who made the final of the 2014 U.S. Open. "I've been playing really well. Hopefully we can bring a good result."
Tennis players have hectic schedules that crisscross the globe, but Raonic said the decision to play in the Davis Cup is an easy one.
"I'm here because I want to be here," he said. "I don't have anybody telling me I need to be here. I have a desire to here. I want to succeed at this event and I want to succeed representing Canada."
The winner of the tie will advance to the World Group quarter-finals, while the loser must take part in a playoff to maintain its spot among the world tennis elite for next year.
"The table is set for us to go out there and get the win," said Laurendeau. "We've just got to execute."
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