By Mike McIntyre
Doubles took centre stage in the tennis world on Saturday for a pivotal Davis Cup match between Canada and Italy at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver. Tied at one victory apiece heading into the match, the result would give a big boost to the team that emerged with the win today.
It could be argued that Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau was taking a risk by putting Pospisil back out there after his five set singles loss to Andreas Seppi yesterday. Aside from failing to close it out after leading two sets to none, Pospisil's partnership with Nestor has also been fragile in recent matches. The two have not enjoyed much success in Davis Cup play and have lost their last three matches in a row to France, South Africa and Spain.
Laurendeau explained at the end of the day Friday that he was going to stick with the guy he described as Team Canada's "workhorse" from a key Davis Cup tie against Israel in 2011 that put Canada back into the world group. That Loyalty for Pospisil seemed to be a risky move and one that Laurendeau would certainly be second guessed for should he and Nestor be unable to secure the victory against Italy.
As for Nestor, Laurendeau was quite frank in his press conference on Friday when he was asked if the 40 year old veteran really needed to come through for Canada.
"He sure does. Daniel is a champion, he's won a lot of things. He's won pretty much everything out there and the one thing he's lacking is a semi-final appearance in Davis Cup. He's waited a long time for this opportunity as a champion. He pretty much lost one doubles match or so in the last fifteen years and now he's lost the last three so he's looking forward to the opportunity to turn that around and contribute a point for the team. He's a great team player, he shows up at Davis cup and he's there for the team every time. It's not a good feeling when you only have one match and you don't contribute. He wants to avenge that for sure. I'm expecting a good level of play tomorrow."
Driving to the arena this morning with Italian Davis Cup legend Nicola Pietrangeli (166 Davis Cup matches, 120-44 record) I was asked by the former two time Grand Slam champion why Canada would not play Milos Raonic instead of Pospisil in the doubles. An Italian journalist who was with us mused that it was due to a personality clash between Raonic and Nestor although I've never witnessed anything to support that statement. In the end despite their recent struggles, the Nestor/Pospisil combination was still the best that Canada had to offer.
As was the case yesterday in singles, Canada jumped out to an early lead by taking the first set. With Bracciali serving at 2-3, 30-40, a hard forehand from Nestor forced a backhand error on the volley from Fognini to give the first break to the Canadians. They would hold on to win the opener 6-3.
The second set followed a similar path with Nestor and Pospisil getting a break of Fognini's serve to go ahead 3-2. The Canadians would then continue to hold their own serves to capture the set 6-4.
Being up two sets to none was a familiar position for Team Canada and especially for Pospisil who squandered the same lead a day ago in his singles match.
Unable to maintain an early break in the third set, Nestor and Pospisil allowed the Italians to break right back. Serving at 3-4, 40-A, Pospisil would have his serve broken as a Fognini service return handcuffed the young Canuck prompting the unfortunate error. Fognini and Bracciali would take the third set 6-3 and suddenly the Italians had some life.
Pospisil and Nestor continued to struggle in the fourth with double faults and errors seeming to mount. Was Nestor at age 40 starting to tire? Apparently he had tweaked his right calf in the recent Masters event in Miami. Or was the problem once again Pospisil's focus as he himself admitted to in his match against Seppi yesterday? Either way the match was quickly spiralling out of control for Team Canada as Italy took the fourth set 6-3.
In the fifth both teams were feeling the pressure but it was the Canadians who almost buckled first. With Nestor serving at 2-3, he and Pospisil would face two break points at 15-40. They held their ground however and managed to get the crucial hold to tie things up at 3-3.
In the end it was strong serving from Pospisil that allowed Canada to stay in the hunt. He held at love three times in a row to tie the set at 4-4, 6-6 and 8-8. Knowing that a loss of his serve would mean losing the match, Pospisil seemed like the poised veteran and continually gained some key points for Canada throughout the fifth set.
Canada had two looks at a break while Fognini was serving at 9-9, 15-40, but the Italians refused to capitulate and found a way to hold on.
Later while serving at 11-11, Fognini was called for a footfault on his first serve with the score 15-30. While the Italians won the next point, chair umpire Jake Garner had words with the line judge who made the call and then gave the Italian duo a warning for unsportsmanlike comments that it appeared Bracciali had made after the foot fault call.
Madness ensued at 12-12 when a timely challenge by Canada led to a video replay reversing an "out" call that would have given the game to the Italians. Fognini and Bracciali had to return from their team bench and play instead at deuce. The game went on for at least another ten minutes with each team having multiple chances to win it. Canada couldn't close out their two break points and so eventually Italy did hold serve. The Canadians certainly seemed to be closing in though.
Two games later on Fognini's serve the Italians quickly found themselves down 0-40 thanks to some great plays by Nestor who had been re-vitalized since halfway through the fifth set. With three break points the Canadians were not going to let-up and they finally earned the elusive break to move ahead 14-13 and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
With Pospisil continuing to serve so consistently the pair closed it out in 4 hours and 32 minutes by a final score of 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 15-13 to move within one win of advancing to their first ever Davis Cup semi-final.
It was redemption for Pospisil after the way his singles match turned out a day ago and also for he and Nestor as a doubles partnership who were so desperate to get back in the win column. The victory also served as validation for captain Laurendeau's decision to keep the struggling pair together.
Milos Raonic will now try to seal the deal on Sunday in a reverse singles match against Andreas Seppi. Will they be able to top today in terms of drama? As we've seen so far this weekend, anything can happen.