Over the past 23 years, Daniel Nestor has earned himself the nickname “Mr. Davis Cup.” The Olympic gold medalist is playing in his 48th tie this weekend and remains as reliable as ever. On Saturday he picked up his 47th victory (32nd in doubles), partnering with Vasek Pospisil to give Canada a 2-1 edge over Japan (7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3).
Somewhat surprisingly, the Japanese opted not to play Kei Nishikori in the doubles, instead sticking with Go Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama. On paper, this should have been an easy match for Nestor and Pospisil, who are both past Wimbledon champions and have a combined world ranking of 19th in men's doubles, compared to 222nd and 389th for Uchiyama and Soeda.
“We’d talked about Nishikori playing before and everyone was a little surprised he didn’t play, but realistically I don’t know if the level would’ve been that much better if he’d played,” said Nestor. “Maybe it would’ve even been better for us, ‘cause then we would’ve perhaps handled the great play a little bit better and expected it more, mentally been a bit more prepared for it.”
The Japanese duo certainly played above their level, and after witnessing two straight-sets singles matches yesterday, fans from both sides got to enjoy a three-hour, five-set doubles battle today.
Nestor and Pospisil have a history of outlasting opponents in five-setters together in the Davis Cup. The overall match today wasn’t quite as close as their 2013 victories over Serbia and Italy that took nearly four and a half hours a match, but it was enough to bring about comparisons.
“We just decide beforehand that we want to make it really dramatic for everybody,” Pospisil joked during his on-court interview with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani.
And dramatic it was. Both sides broke each others serves early in the first set (7-5), but it was Canada that was able to get a second break to avoid the tiebreaker.
But the Canadians struggled in the second set (2-6) and allowed the Japanese to storm back.
“Early in the match, it’s kinda my fault being the experienced guy getting a little frustrated ‘cause they’re playing well,” said Nestor. “People back home are asking me ‘how did you lose to those guys’ and they don’t know who they are, but this happens all the time in doubles. I think you just need to throw out the rankings, especially on fast courts. Davis Cup especially, you’re playing for your country, [and] you have a week to prepare.”
Canada recovered quickly in the third set (6-3) by breaking Japan’s first service game and finishing it off with an emphatic ace from Pospisil.
In the fourth set (3-6), the Canadians were broken early again and couldn’t catch up.
“It was a little bit of a rollercoaster match,” said Pospisil. “[It was] tough for me because I’m not really in the doubles rhythm. I didn’t feel like I played my best, but I played well when we needed to. And Danny, credit to him, he played solid the whole match.”
A fifth and final set was needed, and it started as a back-and-forth affair. A crucial moment came with the set tied at two, Pospisil serving, and the game at a deuce. Japan’s shot was called in, but was overturned following review. Now with the advantage, Canada was able to hold their serve.
Then, with the set at 4-3, Canada converted a crucial break point, and Pospisil served up the winner.
“It’s just a matter of connecting on a few consecutively,” said Nestor. “They played very well on serve and when we had minor chances, they seemed to come up with good shots. It’s just a matter of staying patient and connecting.”
"I think we used the crowd really well when we needed to, especially the fifth set,” added Pospisil. “[You’re] kind of saving the energy a little bit for the end of the fifth ‘cause that’s when you know you can suddenly pounce and the crowd will get on top of them in tight moments in the match, and it paid off.”
With the 2-1 overall lead in the tie, Milos Raonic will have the opportunity to upset Nishikori and send Canada to the World Group quarterfinals.
“It puts more pressure on the opponents, [but] we’ve got one more match to win but it’s often the toughest one,” said Canadian team captain Martin Laurendeau.
“Everybody would rather be up 2-1 then down 2-1, so hopefully it allows Milos to breathe a little easier and help him begin the match just a little bit more relaxed.”
However, should the tie come down to the fifth rubber, the Canadians aren’t worried about Pospisil being fatigued at all. “[Vasek] wants to win so bad that he’ll be ready to go. We’ll get both guys ready. I know for Milos this is the kind of match that he enjoys, with a lot on the line. It’s gonna be a beauty tomorrow.”