***Raheel Manji is a special kid. Good at school, polite, thankful he now is a National Singles Champion. He is respected by ACE coaches and players for his uncompromising approach to his development. We thought sharing his past few months’ experience, which culminated in him winning the U16 Canadian Indoor, would provide insight to parents and players of the approach that is needed to succeed***
I was really excited to be chosen to compete for Canada in the Jr. Davis Cup competition along with my teammates Alejandro Tabilo, Harrison Scott, and our coach Bruno Agostenelli. I knew we would all compete hard and prepare our best to get ready for the competition. We were informed that the Jr. Davis Cup would be played in Montreal, Canada at the Uniprix Stadium on indoor hard courts. Bruno told us how important the doubles would be in this competition so I worked on doubles more than I usually would along with singles to get ready.
The four of us arrived in Montreal on Sunday evening and the training camp was going to start Monday morning. Monday morning we were all excited to start the training camp as a team before our first tie on Thursday. We were excited but also nervous to represent Canada well in the Jr. Davis Cup. We used Monday to get a feel for the courts and atmosphere. We had a team meeting and discussed our priorities for this competition along with some of the same rules the Men’s Davis Cup team has in place that we would need to follow for the week. Push ups were the punishment for broken rules, such as cell phones during dinner or music while supporting our team mate’s matches.
For the rest of the training camp, the morning practices would be focused specifically on singles and singles strategy, while the afternoon practices would specify doubles and doubles strategy. I was expected to play doubles with Alejandro, so we worked on getting used to competing with each other in the training camp. By Wednesday, Mexico, U.S.A and Dominican Republic had all arrived. Wednesday afternoon all the players and teams had signed in and the draw was made. We drew the U.S. for Thursday, which was expected to be the most difficult team for us in the round robin. Since Mexico was hosting the World Group Finals they automatically received a spot into the Finals which meant there was only one spot for any other team in our group to qualify. This meant it was essential that we defeat the U.S., Mexico and Dominican. Wednesday evening Harrison, Alejandro and I had individual meetings with Coach Bruno on how we would approach the U.S. the next day. Jr Davis Cup is a best of 3 matches, 2 out of 3 full sets with ads. We were also allowed our team coach on the court with us.
Thursday morning after our warm up we had a meeting with Coach Bruno to learn the line-up for the tie against the U.S. Bruno announced that I would play the first match of singles against U.S.’s number 2 player Francis Tiafoe. We went through the opening ceremonies where each country and player was introduced, the national anthem was sung, a players oath ceremony took place and a short speech. After the ceremony, the matches began. I got off to a shaky start going down 3-0 in the first set but then I began to settle into the match broke back and took the first set 6-4. On the changeover Bruno told me that it is important to continue to keep control of the points in the second set and to really focus on the key points. The crowd was really on my side cheering after every point. In the second set, Francis and I held all the way up into the tiebreak. At this point it was a really tight match and I was working towards pulling out the match but I got off to a bad start in the tiebreak going down 6-2 I brought it back to 6-4 in the tiebreak but lost the next point to lose the second set. In the third set the crowd was really into the match however I got broken early and was not able to break back losing the match 6-3 in the third set. I was really disappointed because I wanted to get Canada the lead however I had to move on and support Alejandro in his match against U.S.’s number 1 Stefan Kozlov.
Alejandro was playing really well and was reacting well to the crowd being on his side. He won the first set 6-4. Momentum was on his side and he was rolling along. It was a lot tighter second set but he pulled out a 6-4 7-5 win. Canada was now 1-1 against the U.S. and it was now all up to the doubles to decide the tie. In the line-up, it was Alejandro and I in the doubles against Stefan Kozlov and Henrik Weirsholm. From the beginning of the match there was a big crowd and mostly all of them were cheering for Canada. We were nervous to start the match and were not playing the doubles we knew we needed to play to win this match and we lost the first set 6-1. With the support of the crowd we got into the match setting up and finishing the points well. We were winning the key points and we took the second set 6-4. The crowd was so loud and we were really pumped. The deciding set would decide the match but would also decide the tie. We were head-for-head in the third set but we got broken and lost a deuce game to go down 5-3. We fought really hard in that last game but the U.S. held serve and we lost 6-3 in the third. It was a heartbreaker because we were so close to beating the U.S. in this tie and did not pull through. Even though we lost that heartbreaker of a tie 2-1, playing that doubles match with Alejandro and with that crowd was one of the most fun matches I have ever played before and a great experience.
Although we lost a close one to the U.S., we still needed to prepare for our upcoming tie against the Dominican Republic. The line-up had me only playing doubles. Harrison played the first match for Canada and he won by the score of 6-1, 6-0. We then supported Alejandro in his next match and he pulled through winning 6-2 6-2. Harrison and I were then put in for the doubles. We won 6-0, 6-0 in 35 minutes to win the tie 3-0. Our next and final tie would be against Mexico. The line up had me playing the first singles match and doubles. I was not playing too great and was missing a bit of my ground-strokes, however my serve helped me a lot to win free points. I then broke my opponents serve at the right times to win the match 6-3, 6-2. We went up 1-0 and Alejandro was to play singles next. Alejandro controlled the flow of the match and won 6-3, 6-3. In the doubles it was Harrison and I, and we controlled the match and finished the match 6-4, 6-2 to win the tie against Mexico 3-0.
The closing ceremonies finished and we headed back to the hotel. We had one final team dinner to recognize the hard work of every player and coach on Team Canada. Although we lost to the U.S. it was a great competition over all, Canada fought well and it was a great experience. We met a lot of cool people from the different countries, had a taste of the pressure, routines and expectations that the Men’s Davis Cup team goes through, and learned a lot about ourselves.