Davis Cup: Milos Raonic, Canada clinch historical semifinal berth
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History was made Sunday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on the UBC campus in Vancouver.
Canada’s Davis Cup team advanced to the World Group semifinal for the first time, and will now face Serbia in the next round.
Canadian Milos Raonic, ranked 16th in the world in men’s singles, defeated Andreas Seppi of Italy in four sets (6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5) to secure Canada’s ticket to the semifinal.
Canada defeated Italy 3-1, with Raonic getting that decisive third victory, closing out a determined Seppi, ranked 18th in the world, in two hours and 24 minutes.
"I've been trying to pinch myself...since match point," said team captain Martin Laurendeau.
"I can't even remember match point, actually. The ball when into the net and then I blacked out."
In terms of length of time and dramatics, this match didn’t quite live up to the classic that Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, and Daniele Bracciali and Fabio Fognini authored up in Saturday afternoon’s doubles match.
That was epic, and the turning point in the quarter-final between Canada and Italy. Nestor and Pospisil broke out to a two-sets-to-none lead, but Italy won the next two sets, setting up for an emotionally charged fifth set that Canada eventually took 15-13.
"It was exciting in the sense that it gave a big, I think, lift to everybody," said Raonic, who was visibly demonstrative as a cheerleader throughout Saturday's match.
"You could even tell, the tie wasn't over but the kind of celebration that was put out really by the guys was...there was a big sigh of pride, pretty much. Everybody was so happy with that, everybody was so relieved to get that through but also very proud."
Raonic sat on deck for the fourth rubber. He wins it, Canada advances. He doesn't win, and there would have been a fifth and deciding match later Sunday.
Raonic won it, utilizing the premier hard court and his serve - despite a trio of double faults late in the second set - to jump ahead two-sets-to-none on Seppi, who fought back in the third set.
"This was almost playing on ice, so it's very difficult to find a rhythm," said Seppi, adding he began to return Raonic's serve better in the third set, which gave him confidence.
"I think on tour, it's a little bit different, but I mean he's for sure in, I don't know, top-five guys of serving. That's for sure."
Raonic had numerous chances to break Seppi in the third and fourth sets, as the Italian tried to mount his comeback, which is something he accomplished down two-sets-to-none to Pospisil on Friday.
"Of his five service games, I had break chances on three of them, so it's not like I got completely outplayed in that third set," said Raonic.
"I felt I had my opportunities, he converted better than I did."
He was finally did break Seppi in the 12th game of the fourth set, after "plugging away" as he called it. He began the set with a pair of aces to grab the first game.
The crowd could sense victory, giving Raonic a thunderous standing ovation after the ninth game when he grabbed a 5-4 lead and when he went up 6-5 after a 186-kilometre per hour ace, the final one of his 35 on the day.
When it was over, the Canadian team rushed onto the court in celebration, dancing around in a circle, the crowd going crazy behind them.
Canada ousted top-ranked Spain in the World Group first-round tie two months ago, and has now eliminated Italy.
Canada's team will travel to take on Serbia, and perhaps world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, in September after the U.S. Open.
Win that, and it’s off to the Davis Cup World Group final, but that would be jumping way too far ahead – even if members of the partisan Canadian crowd at points during Sunday’s match began chanting ‘We want the Cup!’
"It's been a long road, but what we're going through right now, it's great," said Laurendeau.
"I'm really proud of the guys for being able to perform under pressure and grabbing their opportunities when they're in front of them."