Canada’s Davis Cup team has proven they can win without star player Milos Raonic, but they would rather not have to do it again.
Raonic’s much-anticipated return to tennis could be on hold, as the hard-serving 20-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., fell ill earlier this week after arriving in Israel for Canada’s tie against the host country.
Raonic was hit with a bug, says Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau, and his status for Friday’s second singles match against Amir Weintraub is uncertain.
“He’s in the process of recovering and getting his strength back,” Laurendeau said during a conference call Thursday.
“He wants to play. He trained this afternoon, he’s really worked hard to be here and play for Canada. He deserves to play and he will if he can.”
Raonic hasn’t played since injuring his hip at Wimbledon in June. He underwent surgery July 5 in Vail, Colo., and later took himself out of consideration for the U.S. Open, announcing his tournament return would be this weekend’s Canada versus Israel matchup.
Laurendeau believes having this specific Davis Cup target date inspired Raonic to a faster recovery.
“It really looked bad for the first few months after his injury,” said Montreal’s Laurendeau. “But Milos is so determined, he’s got Davis Cup as a top priority on his calendar and I think that was the key to success in his rehab.
“I think this Davis Cup forced him to really, really push hard on rehab and get better quicker than the doctors anticipated.”
If Raonic can’t play Friday, the team will go with Peter Polansky of Thornhill. Raonic is also scheduled to play the first singles match on Sunday against Dudi Sela.
Other members of this year’s Canadian Davis Cup squad include Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Toronto doubles veteran Daniel Nestor.
A win over Israel would put Canada into the elite World Group for the first time since 2004. The Israeli team is ranked No. 10 in the world, 11 spots ahead of Canada. The two sides have never met in a Davis Cup tie.
If Canada was forced to play without Raonic this weekend, the team can at least take comfort in the fact it was able to get to the World Group playoffs for the first time since 2005 without him.
In the Americas Zone Group I second-round tie in July, Canada mounted a 3-2 comeback victory against Ecuador on the road.
“We managed to win the last tie without him, which was very difficult,” said Laurendeau. “It’s good for us to have him and it’s great for the team confidence and chemistry. I’m sure the Israelis would rather play Canada without Raonic.”
The deciding match in the victory against Ecuador was won by Vancouver’s Philip Bester. Laurendeau says Bester’s omission from this Davis Cup team was not a matter of making room for Raonic.
Bester suffered an injury during the match and hasn’t played since.
“He got us that fifth win and he played that match with a lot of pain,” said Laurendeau. “Since then he hasn’t been able to play because he was diagnosed with a stress fracture.
“He’s tried to come back to be here, but it keeps flaring up and he hasn’t played since.”
Too bad, he was playing well. Hopefully we can win for him this time around.”
Raonic, 31st in this week’s ATP rankings, is Canada’s highest ranked singles player ever.
The tie will be played at Canada Stadium in Ramat Hasharon, which was erected 35 years ago and made possible by the contributions of several Jewish Canadians.
The other Davis Cup playoff matchups include Australia versus Switzerland; Romania versus Czech Republic; Russia versus Brazil; South Africa versus Croatia; Chile versus Italy; Japan versus India; and Belgium versus Austria.