By Mike McIntyre
While Milos Raonic rightly captures much of Canadian media and fan attention, other players on Team Canada are proving to be able to carry their own as well when it comes to Davis Cup competition.
In February it was Frank Dancevic who came up with an unexpected win to help propel Canada into their first ever World Group quarter-final. Today in Vancouver it was Vasek Pospisil who was aiming to fill the role of the underdog who could deliver when counted on.
Taking on the 18th ranked player in the world, Andreas Seppi, was no easy task for Pospisil who is currently only ranked 140th on the ATP World Tour. The two had split their earlier career encounters with Seppi winning 7-5, 7-6 back in the fall of 2011 in St. Petersburg and Pospisil evening the score with a victory last summer in Toronto at the Rogers Cup where he prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.
Prior to the match the teams were introduced on court followed by the playing of both the Italian and Canadian national anthems. I found it interesting to note that Pospisil was the only player on Team Canada who was not singing along. Intensely focused or consumed with pre-match jitters...only time would tell.
Initially it appeared that the magnitude of the moment might have gotten the better of the 22 year old Canadian, as he quickly found himself down a break at 0-2. Pospisil managed to recover however and ran off three games in a row to get the match back on serve.
Things progressed rather evenly from there until Seppi was serving at 5-6. Pospisil came running out of his chair after the tv break, pumping himself up as if he were Rafael Nadal. The fans at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre sensed Seppi was feeling the pressure and did as best they could to add to his self-doubt with thunderous chanting and applause after each and every point. Seppi was up 40-15 at this important juncture of the game but double-faulted and then a cross-court forehand into the net to quickly even things up at deuce. The Italian then sent a shot long to hand Pospisil the only set point he would need to gain the upper hand. What followed was the longest rally of the match that concluded when Pospisil made one of only a few forays into the net to close out the first set 7-5.
The pair stayed on serve again until the late stages of the second set with Pospisil showing no signs of letting his higher-ranked and more experienced opponent into the match. Seppi didn't seem to have the ability to hurt Pospisil with his game despite the Italian being in the midst of a career twelve month period that has seen him reach his all-time high ranking. Late in the set with Seppi serving at 4-5 nerves once again got the better of him as he found himself quickly down 15-40 in the game. Pospisil wouldn't let him get his footing back and the Canadian hung on to take the second set 6-4.
While Canada could afford to lose the opening match and still have decent odds of emerging victorious in this quarter-final tie, the Italians would have some serious trouble maintaining their hopes if they were to have their number one singles player lose to Pospisil. You have to figure that Raonic is going to be nearly impossible to beat on a hard court against the Italians.
Seppi must have realized this too and picked it up a notch in the third set. He wasted little time in breaking Pospisil to go ahead 2-1 and did not let go from there. Pospisil let his foot off the gas peddle just enough to let his opponent get back into the match. Serving later at 5-4, Seppi momentarily looked as if he might let nerves get the better of him once again, but he was able to maintain his composure and hang out to take the set 6-4.
Pospisil's confidence quickly seemed to be disappearing as Seppi broke right away to start the fourth set. Suddenly there was quite the different vibe in the building as it became clear the Italian was starting to find his groove. He took the fourth set 6-3 to even the match.
Two hours and forty two minutes to get to a fifth and decisive set between Seppi and Pospisil. It was only the second match that the Canadian has ever played that has gone five sets with his last one being during his Davis Cup heroics against Israel in late 2011.
A repeat was not to be in order on this day unfortunately for the Canadian as Seppi broke early yet again in the set to go ahead 3-1. He would not let Pospisil get any looks on his service games the rest of the way and would finish with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory.
While Pospisil gave a valiant effort, perhaps better than most expected, he was not able to close the match out when he had the chance up two sets to none. It will now be up to Raonic to even things up this evening in his singles match against Fabio Fognini.