The first ever Davis Cup meeting between Serbia and Canada will kick off in Belgrade on Friday.
Canada made it this far in the competition only once before, exactly 100 years ago. In Vancouver back in February, they took advantage of a weakened Spanish team to win three singles rubbers: with no Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer or even Fernando Verdasco in action, Milos Raonic and Frank Dancevic led the home team to morale-boosting victory.
Against Italy in the quarter-finals, Raonic was again the star performer with commanding wins over Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi; Daniel Nestor teamed up with Vasek Pospisil to beat the Italians 15-13 in the deciding set of a memorable doubles rubber.
Although Serbia has not played the Davis Cup for as long as Canada – their first outing came in 1995 – they have been in the elite World Group for longer and won the competition in 2010. The Serbs had little trouble dispatching Belgium in the first round in 2013, but Novak Djokovic had to play and win two singles rubbers to lead his country to a quarter-final victory over the USA. That tie was also notable for a rare Davis Cup defeat for the Bryan brothers – Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic beat the legendary twins 15-13 in the fifth.
Serbia has chosen an indoor clay court as the venue for this clash, knowing that it will blunt Canada’s biggest weapon: the serve of Milos Raonic (Bio). Another factor in the hosts’ favour is the presence of the world number one. Djokovic (Bio) admitted to feeling jet-lagged as he landed in Belgrade just two days after losing the US Open final, but the Australian Open champion is by far the most accomplished singles player on either team, and will be heavily favoured to win both of his matches despite never facing Raonic or Pospisil before.
However, it is much more difficult to predict the outcome of the other three rubbers. Serbia’s second singles player, Janko Tipsarevic (Bio), has not had a good season and is not as his best on clay. He also lost to Raonic in all three of their previous encounters. Tipsarevic and Pospisil have never played before and the young Canadian might struggle to deal with a hostile crowd, but Pospisil (Bio) proved his talent at the Montreal Masters last month and is a gutsy competitor.
With a possible even split between the four singles matches, the doubles rubber will be paramount. Bozoljac and Zimonjic will be feeling confident after their upset of the Bryans five months ago, but Daniel Nestor is one of the most decorated doubles players in the sport and his vast experience will be key should the going get tough.
The home advantage, slower court and Djokovic make Serbia the favourites for this tie, and they could feasibly take an unassailable 3-0 lead at the end of Saturday if Tipsarevic steps it up on home soil. Yet despite their youth, Raonic and Pospisil should not be underestimated. In addition, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if an exhausted Djokovic suffered a post-New York letdown and dropped one of his matches. The visitors have benefitted from good fortune to get this far; another slice of good luck could propel them into the Davis Cup showpiece for the first time ever.