Written by: Pierre Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.
His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.
His ONcourt series of editorials specifically provides thoughts for reflection on how to make Canada a tennis superpower.***
This past Sunday, September 18th, was a day I was looking forward to. I had eight hours put aside to catch up with all the administration relating to the start up of the two ACE Tennis Academies and our club, Toronto Tennis City. After reading the Sunday Sun to check on my NFL picks, having my Starbucks, I decided to watch the Davis Cup tie between Canada and Israel while doing my work.
Of all my over 50 years of experiences as a player, coach, fan of tennis nothing comes close to the excitement of a Davis Cup tie. I enjoyed my time as a Fed Cup captain, watching our players play at Center court in all four Grand Slams, watching our players win titles at Grand Slam but nothing matched the stress of a Davis Cup Tie. In fact, for Canada nothing matches the ties that are played for qualifying for the World Group and nothing is more stressfull than if you get to the fifth match tied two matches a piece.
The way Vasek Pospisil handled that match, the way captain Martin Laurendeau managed adversity, his team and his players was nothing short of GREAT. I was so proud to watch Polansky, a former All-Canadian player, struggle in one of the toughest situation in Davis Cup: being inserted at the last minute, substituting for Canada’s #1 player Milos Raonic to play Israel’s #1 player, top 100 ATP ranked Dudi Sela. It was an impossible situation if you add the following factors: Polansky was lacking in volume of match play due to injury, he had played his last two tournaments [lower level events] on clay, he was playing Israel’s top player Dudi Sela who was ready to avenge his first day loss to Pospisil and, finally, he was playing in Israel in a center named after his country, the Canada center. Peter gave it all, but the overall situation made it practically impossible for him to win.
So now three hours into my admin work, which of course was put on the back burner, I started watching the deciding rubber [special words for Davis Cup lingo]. The memories that began to flow through me were just unbelievable. Within a set, I was there in Israel living every moment, comparing it to so many experiences I had been fortunate to experience as Davis Cup captain.
On the day, when Robert Bettauer [he was the TV commentator in Israel, A+]offered me to be Davis Cup captain in 1988, I went for a 30 minute run [I was not always heavy] taking in the moment and the great feeling associated with being able to contribute in trying to make Canada a tennis power. Canada had not been in the World Group since 1921. That day running around the Stadium, my first objective was to help us achieve World Group status. I even envisioned us doing it right on the court that I was circling. Two years later in late September of 1990, after much haggling on where to play, Grant Connell found himself in the fifth match on a lightning fast court [ice] specifically designed for him against the Netherlands top 30 players and their Grand Slam doubles Champions, at that same center court at York University. Connell, the man of steel, did it for Canada and propelled us for the first time in 70 years in the World Group.
After losing to powerhouse Spain 4-1 in the World Group, we were fortunate to draw a weaker Cuba in the World Group playoff for 1991. Anything can happen in Davis Cup and Connell again saved us by winning the deciding match in a 3-2 victory. This again propelled us in the World Group against defending champion Sweden in 1992. That is a story in itself.
Connell became captain Connell and led Canada to a 3-2 victory in 2003 in World Group playoff before losing to the Netherlands in the World Group in 2004. Now we have done it again and this time there is hope for more repeat performances and even wins in the World Group. The reasons for this optimism are well founded. First, Tennis Canada for the first time in 20 years finally has the money to support its top players with the coaching they require when they make the transition to the pros. This has not been the case since the early 1990’s when various economic pressures resulted in a cash poor national body. Second, Raonic is a star who can win two points in any tie, Pospisil has shown the ability to become a top 50 player, the doubles is still almost a point in the bank [the Canadian Davis Cup team was initially built on the idea that we would always win the doubles, that we had to find a way to win one match the first day and that we had two shots on the last day for success]. Nestor and his grand-mother would make a good team, but Nestor and Pospisil [Olympic team?] are a very solid team. Polansky and Bester are two other players capable of helping the cause once they come back from their injuries. All these players are 22 or younger and Frank Dancevic is stll an option if issues are resolved and he finds his playing form back.
The support staff of the Canadian Davis Cup team has always been a great asset. Led by Louis Borfiga who will be an unbelievable asset in the tie versus France in next year’s World Group and managed day to day by Matin Laurendeau, the Canadian team has the opportunity to achieve levels of performance never reached before: winning World Group ties.
Watching Martin Laurendeau, the always under control player, coach and captain, jumping for joy on the sidelines, and old man Nestor [nothing excites me except for the Steelers, the Canadiens and my family] joining the kids jumping on the court, suffocating Pospisil, I could feel the pride of being part of our great Canadian tennis family. My administration work is still waiting.
Well done, watch out, France [a country where Davis Cup is gigantic], the Canadians are waiting.