Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil helped cinch Canada's place in the elite, 16-nation Davis Cup with two singles and one doubles victory over Israel in September. His reward comes this weekend at UBC when the 21-year-old, world No. 115 tennis player competes for his country on a hometown court.
His older teammate knows what waits. Twenty years ago Daniel Nestor, then a 19-year-old rookie, upset world No. 1 superstar Swede Stefan Edberg at the Vancouver Agrodome. The intense No. 3-ranked doubles player was characteristically passionate at a Monday afternoon practice at UBC's Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Nestor prodded, shouted at Pospisil: "That's it! Think about playing in your hometown in front of your friends and family."
"It's definitely special," the younger player said after banging around a few balls with Nestor and teammate Frank Dancevic. A junior player on a nearby court stopped for autographs and half a dozen parents huddled at the baseline taking pictures.
This weekend the Canadians meet France, including world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and three more Frenchmen ranked in the top 50 on hard courts. Around the globe, seven simultaneous Davis Cup ties (ie, first-round matches) are scheduled.
Pospisil, who practiced at public tennis
courts in Kitsilano as a teenager, doesn't underestimate the influence of playing on home turf. Tennis Canada is promoting a red-and-white campaign and urging fans to dress in the colours of the flag.
"It's huge. All year last year [qualifying for the Davis Cup] we were playing on the road in Equador, Mexico, Israel and now to finally be home in Canada and my hometown Vancouver, it's huge. The crowd support is a huge factor in Davis Cup and we're hoping we can feed off the positive energy."
In Israel, the Canadians met an especially fevered, intimidating reception. Spectators cheered at each of the visitors' missed serves and lost points; they hollered with each homeside success.
Tennis Canada executive Eugene Lapierre said after Canada qualified for the Davis Cup in the fall that he expects to see the same passion and fire from his compatriots watching in Vancouver even if it means uncharacteristic inhospitality. "Be mean," he said. "We're not accustomed to that over here. We'll instruct the crowd to be the same."
The Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, the site of women's Olympic hockey in 2010, seats 5,200. Tickets sold out in hours. Canada last qualified for the Davis Cup in 2004. Top-ranked Canadian singles player Milos Raonic will also play.
The hard-serving six-foot-four Pospisil is bracing for tough competition from the powerful French. The draw won't be determined until Thursday morning but the right-handed Canadian said he'll have to concentrate on playing his own game and forget the pedigree of his opponent.
He's feeling confident. "It's a whole new competition. Sure, it was nice to have won the matches in Israel and get here-that's always in the back of my mind-but at the same time, I'm just trying to focus on this new match-up with France and do my best."
The matches are Feb. 10 to 12. For a complete schedule, visit daviscup.com.
TENNIS WORLD CUP
Think about the Davis Cup as the world cup of tennis. The 16-nation championship is contested over four weekends throughout the year and players are selected by national tennis organizations to play for their country. "Players take it very seriously... It's a big honour," said Ryan Clark, chief executive officer of Tennis B.C. "[The] Davis Cup is a big thing to have on the checkoff list, to say I've played and competed for my country."
Clark pointed to the emotional response of five-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic when he was forced to withdraw from the Davis Cup last year because of injury. The Serb cried. "Something happens when you put the flag on your back," said Clark.