By Mike McIntyre
It was not the end Canadian tennis fans had envisioned for their opening round Davis Cup tie against France. Instead of watching the highly anticipated singles match between world No. 6 Jo Wilfried Tsonga and big-serving Milos Raonic, there was an initial sigh of disbelief when it was announced Frank Dancevic would be playing for Canada in the crucial fourth match.
It turns out that Raonic had developed a pain in his knee that worsened during his doubles match with Daniel Nestor on Saturday. He made the decision only this morning to abdicate his position in favour of Dancevic, who at 178th in the ATP World Tour rankings did not present nearly the same amount of firepower Canada required to level the Davis Cup tie at two apiece.
Raonic’s decision was nothing short of controversial and had the press buzzing at the Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver. The way the news leaked was through Raonic’s agent Graham Cross who gave a short prepared statement on behalf of his protégé to Tennis Canada less than an hour prior to the match itself. Even more distressing was the fact that Raonic would apparently not be made available at all today to answer any questions about the decision to withdraw.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and Raonic did face the media for a very brief Q&A following the conclusion of the match between Tsonga and Dancevic. Raonic was not spared from answering tough questions about the decision.
First he was asked whether his sponsorship by SAP played any part in the decision to pull-out, since they are also the title sponsors at the tournament in San Jose that starts tomorrow where Raonic is the defending champion. Could it be that his duties to appear there trumped his willingness to test the knee in action today?
Raonic certainly would not concede to that suggestion and instead levelled that it was merely a case of not wanting to cause further harm to his body at this stage of his young career. I chose to take his answer at face value given the amount of time he missed last year with a serious hip injury.
Raonic was further queried about the manner in which he revealed his withdrawal from game-play today without initially speaking to the press. Couldn’t he have found a more professional and transparent way to address the situation?
His response was that he decided to place the Canadian team first and be supportive of Dancevic as he prepared for his big match today. I suppose Raonic failed to foresee the distraction his silence would spark.
Chalk it up to a young player who at the age of twenty-one still has a lot to learn about the way that professional sports and its media coverage operates. One might however wonder if he is being properly advised by his agent, Cross, who also happens to represent American tennis player Andy Roddick – himself not exactly a known charmer with the media.
Either way, there was in fact a tennis match that was played outside of this small debacle. It even ended up being quite an entertaining match at that.
The twenty-seven year old Dancevic relied on his previous Davis Cup experience to at least make a game of it today against his much higher ranked and more talented opponent.
Despite falling behind quickly to 0-4 in the opening set, Dancevic got one break of serve back from the powerful Tsonga and narrowed the gap to 4-3 in favour of the Frenchman.
Though Dancevic would lose the set 6-4, he seemed to be gaining momentum from the ever-raucous crowd that began a steady “Frank the Tank” chant to support their man.
The second set saw some fantastic tennis and an elevated number of winners from both players. That being said, even though he maintained the score at 4-4 and kept it close, Dancevic rarely threatened to break Tsonga’s rock-solid serve. The Canadian would let the set slip by another score of 6-4.
By the third frame, Dancevic was clearly starting to loose his stamina while Tsonga continued his strong play. France would take the match 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 and with it the all-important third and deciding victory to clinch the tie against Canada.
Dancevic should be proud of the way he battled, especially since he was thrust into the spotlight on short notice. He played hard and gave Tsonga a bit more of a challenge than the Frenchman likely expected when he realized it was not going to be the 6’5’’ Raonic across the net from him on this day.
For Milos, it was hopefully a learning experience on how to handle a tough situation like this one in the future. As the emerging face of tennis in Canada he will certainly have other opportunities on the world stage to prove his worth and ability.
For Canada, it was a three day celebration of the wonderful sport of tennis and how it can galvanize a nation. The crowds in Vancouver were top-notch and cheered for their players with the type of fervour normally reserved for a Stanley Cup hockey game. They remained respectful of the French team while simultaneously pumping-up their players in the search for a victory that was unfortunately just not meant to be.