By Mike McIntyre
In what is guaranteed to be the last Davis Cup tie played this time of year on home soil, Canada gave its fans something to remember them by in the opening day of their Tie against the Netherlands. The Tennis Canada squad would secure victories in both singles rubbers with wins from Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov.
The first match featured Canada's No. 1 gun Raonic returning to Davis Cup action for the first time since 2015. The World No. 20 delivered a routine win as expected against World No. 236 Thiemo de Bakker. The only question for Raonic was his health, as he was injured in the last match he played a couple of weeks ago at the US Open. There were no signs of limping or limited movement from that right thigh injury and Raonic cruised 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
It was the second singles match of the day that was predicted to be much closer and that certainly turned-out to be the case. 19 year old Denis Shapovalov brought a 1-1 career head-to-head record into the match against 31 year old Robin Haase. Shapovalov triumphed earlier this season on clay in Rome while Haase got his revenge recently in Toronto at the Rogers Cup. The match did not start well for Canada as Shapovalov was quickly down 3-6, 3-6 due to a high number of errors in comparison to the steady play from his opponent. In the third frame it appeared likely that the Dutchman was going to finish things off in straight sets. Serving at 5-5, Shapovalov somehow saved six break points against him to hold and then break Haase to take the set 7-5. Suddenly there was a glimmer of hope for the enthusiastic home crowd to latch onto. Shapovalov started connecting on his ground strokes that were now finding their mark more often than not. Haase began to tire and for the first time in his young career, Shapovalov would overcome a two set deficit to prevail 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
The victory now sets the stage for Vasek Pospisil and the retiring Daniel Nestor to clinch the tie against the Netherlands in their doubles match Saturday afternoon. The pair will have their work cut out for them as they face the world's No. 20 doubles player Jean-Julien Roger. Roger's partner is unknown at present time but given the four-plus hours that Haase spent on court yesterday, it would be unlikely he returns to action so soon. Instead look to Matwe Middelkoop - world No. 33 to take the spot.
It will be a difficult position for Nestor to be in despite being the sentimental favourite. The 46 year old has played with a revolving door of partners in his final season on the ATP World Tour and has not been able to develop much rhythm as he approaches retirement. He and Pospisil have also struggled in recent matches together but will hope to use the home crowd support and emotional magnitude of the moment to propel them - and Canada - to victory.
Should the Netherlands win in doubles, it will be up to Shapovalov or Raonic to win one of their remaining singles matches on Sunday - a feat that shouldn't be a problem given their success on Friday. While we might not be seeing much Davis Cup action in Canada moving forward under the new format, at least it appears likely that Canadian tennis fans will have a positive lasting memory from the success achieved this weekend here in Toronto.