MONTREAL — The Canadian Davis Cup team got what it wanted by qualifying for the elite World Group, but now it has drawn a formidable opponent in fourth-ranked France.
The draw for 2012 World Group play held in Bangkok on Wednesday saw Canada, now ranked 14th, land a French team that has nine players ranked in the world’s top-100, including four in the top-15.
The consolation is that the best-of-five series scheduled for Feb. 10-12 will be played in Canada at a venue yet to be determined.
“We wanted to make it to the World Group so we could compete against the best of the best and that’s what’s happening by playing France,” team captain Martin Laurendeau said on a conference call. “But on the other side, it’s probably the deepest, toughest team.
“They could have a guy or two not show up and it’s still a tough team. We have to make sure our players are healthy and can play their best tennis.”
The Canadian men advanced to the tennis world’s elite 16 with a victory in Israel on the weekend. It is only the fourth time they have reached the top level, and they are 0-3 in World Group play after appearances in 1991, 1994 and 2004.
Canada was pounded 5-0 by the French in their only Davis Cup meeting, but that was back in 1966 on clay courts at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris.
France is led by No. 8 Gael Monfils, No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 11 Gilles Simon and No. 15 Richard Gasquet. It also has the world’s seventh-ranked doubles player in Michael Llodra.
Canada counters with two tall, hard-hitting prospects on the rise — 30th ranked Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., and 127th ranked Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C. They may also have 165th ranked Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., who opted to bow out of the last two Davis Cup events to concentrate on improving his world ranking.
There is also the fifth-ranked doubles ace Daniel Nestor of Toronto.
Winter dictates it will be played indoors, and Canada gets to chose the type of surface to be used. Laurendeau suggested that super-fast hard courts may be best for a team that likes to pound the ball from the service line.
“We have good players for fast, indoor courts, France also, but we can choose the fastness of our courts to give an advantage to our big servers,” he said.
A quick surface will also keep points shorter and avoid marathon, five-set battles like the five-hour ordeal Pospisil overcame in Israel. In all, the 21 year-old spent about 12 hours on court over three days.
With Raonic sick and coming off hip surgery, Pospisil played the hero with two singles wins and another in doubles with Nestor. He hopes to keep progressing and crack the top 50.
“I think my level is there, I’m not too far from the top 100 as it is, but I can’t get too far ahead of myself,” Pospisil said this week. “I still have along way to go, so I have to put my head down and continue to work hard on my game.”
A host city and a suitable venue must now be found.
Laurendeau said the players will be consulted for their preference, but Tennis Canada will also look at factors such as where they would get the best ticket and corporate box sales.
Tennis Canada executive Eugene Lapierre said this week they will likely seek an arena that can seat up to 8,000 and hope to pack it with a vocal, home country crowd.
And he believes Canada can pull off an upset against any country. The French have won the Davis Cup nine times, most recently in 2001.
“Now we have two competitive players that came from the system we put in place at the national tennis centre,” Lapierre said this week. “We don’t think it’s a fluke. We deserve it.
“Milos is known. We hope he’ll regain his previous ability because it was unbelievable. I have no doubt. He has the talent and everyone will fear him in the next year or so on the circuit. Now we have a second kid with Vasek who has demonstrated similar abilities, with the big serve at the right time and an extremely efficient forehand. What he demonstrated on the weekend is that he is strong mentally.”
Spain, which ousted France 4-1 in the semifinals in September, will play Argentina Dec. 2-4 in this year’s Davis Cup final.
The top-ranked Spaniards will face visiting Kazakhstan to kick off the 2012 competition.
In other World Group matches, it’s Russia at Austria, the U.S. at Switzerland, Italy at the Czech Republic, Sweden at Serbia, Croatia at Japan and Argentina at Germany
“We are so excited to finally have a home tie after being on the road all year,” added Laurendeau. “It will be really nice to have our home fans behind us and we are really looking forward to February.”
A victory would advance the Canadians to the quarter-final stage and ensure they stay in the World Group for 2013. If Canada loses it will drop into a playoff round to avoid relegation to Americas Zone play.
Canada got into the playoff round against Israel with wins this year in Mexico and Ecuador.