Raonic, Nishikori victorious in first day of Davis Cup action

Tennis stars Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori each took care of business on Friday as Canada and Japan got off to a 1-1 start in their Davis Cup World Group tie. Ranked fourth and sixth in the world respectively, Nishikori and Raonic will meet in Sunday’s fourth rubber in what will be the marquee match of the event.

While both players won in straight sets this Friday, they played very different matches. Raonic needed just 88 minutes to dispatch of Tatsuma Ito, who currently sits 85th in the world rankings. Nishikori, on the other hand, was pushed by Canada’s Vasek Pospisil and needed 50 minutes longer to secure the victory.

Pospisil, currently ranked 62nd, battled hard in a 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 defeat, but was unable to capitalize on some crucial chances, especially in the second set. Pospisil had two break point opportunities in that set but couldn’t seal the deal and eventually lost in a tiebreaker.

“I think if I win that set it’s a different match, just ‘cause the crowd gets into it, suddenly he’s feeling more pressure,” said Pospisil. “Honestly I think I got unlucky to lose that second set, but he played well too. It was a tough match.”

The third set wasn’t as contested, with Nishikori breaking Pospisil’s service twice. The Canadian managed to break Nishikori to keep himself in it at 3-4, but that was as close as it would get.

Despite the loss, both Pospisil and Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau saw positives in the match and felt it has set the Canadian team up well for the rest of the tournament.

“I thought [Vasek] did a good job to just go after Kei. He played to win, he believed he could win, and just came up short. But I thought the effort was good,” said Laurendeau. “It’s the kind of match that really gets Vasek into the competitive weekend and get him really involved in the tournament.”

Canada had a brief 1-0 lead as Raonic controlled the first match from start to finish. His booming serve was on display with 19 aces, and he broke his opponent’s serve twice per set en route to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 win.

Raonic was particularly pleased with his service returns. “I think I was missing only 17 per cent of returns. All the other ones I was making in play, so that’s always going to be a positive thing.”

As expected, tomorrow’s doubles has shaped up to be a key factor. The Canadian team of Pospisil and Daniel Nestor are set to take on Go Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama, but Pospisil doesn’t think he’s seen the last of Nishikori. “I expect to see him playing doubles. I think he’s going to be playing tomorrow.”

No matter what the Japanese decide to do tomorrow, the Canadians look to continue feeding off of a rowdy crowd at UBC’s Thunderbird Sports Centre. “It’s a lot of fun to be playing in this atmosphere,” said Raonic. “It helps [because] it makes those tough moments a little bit easier and when you get going it just carries you through. At the beginning it was very loud both ways, and then I feel like the way I was playing, it gave the possibility for the Canadian fans to uprise.”