A savvy Vancouver rally to host the Davis Cup
When the University of British Columbia plays host to Davis Cup tennis for the second consecutive year next February—Canada will face top-ranked Spain February 1 to 3—expectations are that the on-court action will be fierce. The question is: will the competition be as heated as the battle to land the highly coveted event?
With Milos Raonic rocketing to stardom in the past two years and a youngster like Filip Peliwo winning a pair of junior Grand Slam events in 2012, interest in tennis in this country is at an all-time high. And so it should hardly come as a surprise that Tennis Canada was swamped with offers to be the host city or host venue for the showdown with the Spaniards.
“Once the ITF [International Tennis Federation] released the draw and it showed Canada hosting Spain, we got a lot of phone calls from the East Coast to the West Coast,” Tennis Canada’s director of national events, Gavin Ziv, told the Georgia Straight during an interview at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. “It’s a three-day event, which is actually a 10-day rental because you’ve got set-up days and practice days for the teams. Once you start going through that process, you start taking away venues, because in February in Canada, it’s not easy to find indoor venues for 10 days in a row. We narrowed things down and went through that process with Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg. They were all good options, and all three wanted to host. But in the end, the team thought that Vancouver would give them the best chance to win.”
Vancouver had a couple of factors working in its favour. The Davis Cup event is scheduled for the week after the Australian Open, so, logistically, direct flights from down under will ease the travel burden for players and coaches. As well, with uncertainty surrounding the National Hockey League schedule in February, Tennis Canada was able to secure the UBC facility for the dates in question while Calgary and Winnipeg were both interested in hosting the Davis Cup event in buildings that could be required for hockey should the two sides in the ongoing labour dispute settle their differences.
But the bottom line in the decision to come back to Vancouver for a second year in a row was the support Tennis Canada received from tennis fans here who flocked to the Point Grey campus to see Canada face France last February.
Although the result wasn’t what the home fans wanted (France won the best-of-five affair 4-1), the first Davis Cup event in Vancouver in two decades was deemed a huge hit. And it will only get better next February, because part of UBC’s winning bid was to boost seating capacity by 1,400 for the matches against Spain.
“It was the number-one thing we talked to UBC about,” Ziv says. “We said, ‘What can we do to maximize?’ I saw the models from the Olympics, and I saw what they did here. We said, ‘Every square inch—if we can build it, we’re going to build it.’ And that’s what we’re doing. We’ll be at 6,500 seats. The atmosphere should be unbelievably loud and electric. And I think that will make a really big difference for home-court advantage.”
And Canada will require every edge imaginable going up against a tennis titan like Spain, which could trot out 11-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, the fourth-ranked singles player in the world. Nadal’s presence in Vancouver is in doubt, as he hasn’t played a match since injuring his knee at Wimbledon in June. But the Spaniards are so deep that if Nadal can’t represent his country, world number five, David Ferrer, will lead the way.
Regardless, the challenge will be immense for Canada, and it would have been thus whichever city Tennis Canada had selected to host. But coach Martin Laurendeau is thrilled that Vancouver earned the opportunity again so his team will be familiar out at UBC next February.
“Davis Cup has picked up great momentum in the last year and a half in this country, and it’s good to see there are a lot of cities that want in on the action,” he says. “That’s what happens in France and in Spain; everybody wants to have a Davis Cup event. They’re all aware of the impact is has and the fallout it has. It’s a great show. It’s only three days, but it certainly leaves an impact. For us, the important thing is to play at home, because it’s not fun to play away. Facing Spain in Spain would be much more complicated.”
Laurendeau will announce the players who will join Raonic and represent Canada closer to the event. There is every reason to believe it will be the same players—Vasek Pospisil, Daniel Nestor, and Frank Dancevic—who faced France earlier this year.
Tennis Canada will have UBC lay down the same surface used for the matches against the French. It’s a surface designed to maximize the speed of Raonic’s rocket serves and one he’s had success on while winning consecutive ATP Tour events in San Jose, California.
“We have to maximize our opportunities when we do play at home,” the coach says of tailoring the surface speed to his best player’s biggest weapon. “We feel good about our chances against any team indoors and feel we can rival any team under those conditions. We’re excited about the crowd, the support, the speed of the court. We’re riding a wave, and we’ve got to ride it out. We have to take our chances and go for it when we can.”
UBC has already posted a big victory winning a hard-fought battle for the right to host next year’s Davis Cup event. Now it’s up to Canada to do the same against Spain.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter at @patersonjeff.