An exciting weekend of Davis Cup tennis at UBC’s Thunderbird Sports Centre came down to a fifth and final match between Vasek Pospisil and Go Soeda.
When all was said and done, the rowdy crowd was singing “Oh Canada” as the young Vancouverite sealed a 3-2 victory over Japan.
“It’s the best feeling in the world right now, especially doing it here at home in Vancouver,” Pospisil said after moving Team Canada on to the World Group quarterfinals with his second win of the weekend.
With Sunday's fifth rubber being his third match in as many days, it took Pospisil a while to get going. He needed to break Soeda’s serve in order to avoid a tiebreaker in the first set, but after that there was little Soeda could do to stop him. The match was over in straight sets (7-5, 6-3, 6-4) and lasted under two hours.
“Today I was going in with the mentality to use the crowd in the right moments and use my energy where I needed to,” said Pospisil. “I was really focused on my service games, and then I pounced at the ends of the sets.”
Prior to Pospisil’s triumph, the marquee match between Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic lived up to all its hype. But in the end it was Nishikori who prevailed in a three-hour, five-set battle (3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4), keeping Japan alive in the tie.
“Every time [we play], it’s very competitive, a big fight for the both of us,” said Raonic. “The whole match comes down to one or two moments, and I’m happy with the way I fought, the way I competed. That’s all I can ask of myself.”
It was Raonic who struck first, overpowering Nishikori with eight of his signature aces to take the opening set 6-3. Nishikori bounced right back though, winning the second set by the same margin.
“I started a little bit shaky and I was missing easy points,” admitted Nishikori. “He got breaks easily, but in the second set I started to play well. I played a little more aggressive.”
Seizing momentum, Nishikori showed his all-court genius on some long rallies in the third set, giving himself a 2-1 lead in the match.
Raonic battled back with a strong fourth set to keep himself in it, but lost his service early in the fifth. Digging deep, he fought off three game points for Nishikori, then won the deuce to even out the service game.
With the set tied at four, the crowd was so silent when the ball was in play that you could hear the players exhale with every shot. The match seemed destined to go to a tiebreaker, but when Raonic gave up a double fault, he conceded the break point and Nishikori put it away.
“I was waiting for one chance, and he gave me a double fault, which is a little lucky,” said Nishikori. “He’s always a tough player, especially his serve. He has one of the biggest serves on the tour. That’s why I’ve always struggled [and] had to play long matches.”
All seven head-to-head matches between Raonic and Nishikori have either involved a tiebreaker or taken five sets. With both stars still on the rise, their Davis Cup showdown could well end up being a preview of future Grand Slam finals.
Raonic has repeatedly made his goals clear: he wants to be world number one and he wants to succeed at representing Canada, which starts with winning the Davis Cup.
With the depth the Canadian team showed this weekend, that may come sooner than expected.
“There are no limits for us really,” said Pospisil.
Canadian tennis fans already know this much: anything is Pospisil.