By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
MONTREAL, CANADA – To the delight of the local crowd, both Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic were near flawless in the first two singles matches of the Canada-South Africa tie played at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal. Without dropping a set, both Canadians secured a commanding 2-0 lead and confirmed their role as heavy favorites in this encounter.
On paper, this already seemed like a tough task for the South African team: they flew to Canada without their best player, 35th ranked Kevin Anderson, and veteran Rik de Voest, on the starting line-up, injured his wrist practicing earlier during the week and had to withdraw. John-Laffnie de Jager, coach of the South African team, actually had to sign in as a player to ensure a fourth member from his country and prevent disqualification. This left Izak van der Merwe, 188th in the world, and University of Mississippi player (and unranked) Nikala Scholtz as the starting singles players.
On the other hand, Canada couldnâ€™t have asked for a better team. Led by 15th ranked Milos Raonic, the Canadian crew was looking to maintain its spot in the World Group and brought out the big guns in order to do so. Joining Milos was 118th ranked Vasek Pospisil, Frank Dancevic (130th) and doubles star Daniel Nestor.
On Friday afternoon, Canadaâ€™s No. 2 Pospisil started off against South Africanâ€™s number 1 van de Merwe in what was already a key moment of the encounter. Indeed, this match theoretically seemed like the most even one of the weekend, while the other four had the Canadians as the favorites with a much greater edge. Using his strong forehand and getting pumped up by the loud cheers from the crowd, Pospisil came out strong off the blocks, being perfect on break point conversions in the first two sets to take a fast 6-3 6-4 lead. The third set saw van de Merwe give the Canadian a much tougher time, especially as Pospisil was serving for the match, but it was too little too late as Pospisil regrouped to finish in three straight sets and give Canada a 1-0 lead.
For Nikala Scholtz, playing Davis Cup for his country was a dream: the sophomore at University of Mississippi was already happy to be in Montreal as a hitting partner when news of de Voestâ€™s withdrawal changed his weekend plans. A few days later, the player ranked 14th in the NCAA rankings came on court and had a big (and tall) task in front of him in Milos Raonic, ranked 15th…on the professional tour. Fresh from a strong summer hardcourt season where he reached two consecutive quarterfinals in Masters events and the round of 16 at the US Open, Raonic was the star attraction of the event in Montreal.
And the 6-foot-5 Canadian didnâ€™t disappoint: blasting serves (and 26 aces!), he totally overpowered Scholtz with his serve, never giving him a single break opportunity. While the match was much more even from the ground, Scholtzâ€™s efforts couldnâ€™t help him keep up with Raonicâ€™s level: the Canadian cruised through in three sets in just under two hours.
This win gave Canada a commanding 2-0 lead, and the Nestor-Pospisil pair will be aiming at already securing the Canadian win on Saturday in the doubles match of the tie.
Charles David Mathieu-Poulin blogs for WtaQuebec www.wtaquebec.com, a website promoting local Quebec players. He is covering the Davis Cup in Montreal for Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on twitter @earthstroke, follow his Montreal coverage on @TennnisNewsTPN.