Big test for Davis Cuppers

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

They were all there on the other end of the line, goofing and laughing, and if you're a Canadian Davis Cup tennis fan that's what you want. Our men's side, Daniel Nestor, Frank Dancevic, Frederic Niemeyer and Simon Larose, has been together in Bucharest, Romania going on a week, thriving in the particularly concentrated brand of anonymity that comes with being a Canadian tennis star.

"Sometimes it's better to play abroad," team captain Martin Laurendeau said. "There aren't many distractions."

It's a simple enough equation for the men to figure out, beat the Romanians on their own red court or kiss whatever worldwide progress they have made goodbye. Making matters harder will be the stubborn insistence of Romanian Andrei Pavel, the 15th-rated man in the world, to play for the other guys. Likewise Victor Hanescu, ranked 90th.

Canada is ranked 19th in the world. The Romanians are ranked 13th. It now comes down to, as it almost always does, the results of a weekend in Romania.

DOUBLES

The Canadians will roll out Nestor, the U.S. Open doubles champion, and Olympic partner Niemeyer in the doubles event, no doubt against Pavel, who may be good enough to do it himself but will take either Victor Ionita or Florin Mergea along for the ride.

Nestor is a superb doubles player and Niemeyer is certainly able but the surface, a dank red clay that could turn a drag race into a dance marathon, does not favour a Canadian side used to the bang and volley of the hardcourt. Nestor, 30-17 in Davis Cup doubles play, is just 5-8 when playing on clay. Everything, from the surface to the type of ball has been chosen to favour the host Romanians.

"They'll do just about anything they can do to slow it down," Laurendeau said. "They're using about the heaviest balls going."

"Doubles is played more at the net so the game doesn't really change that much with the surface," Nestor said optimistically. "Of all the matches, we should be the most favoured in doubles."

True enough, but the Canadian singles side -- Dancevic, the top-rated Canadian and No. 207 in the world, and either Niemeyer or Simon Larose, who has battled back woes and other injuries -- must split their four matches to give the Nestor and Niemeyer team a chance. Nestor will not play in the singles.

This would be a good time for Dancevic, who turns 21 next week, to step up.

A year ago, Dancevic was an 11th-hour replacement for a dog-tired Nestor. His stirring four-set win over Brazil's Flavio Saretta at the Stampede Corral put Canada into the tournament's round of 16.

Since then, there have been moments, a win over Greg Rusedski in a Wimbledon warmup was probably the nicest.

WHIPLASH

But the Niagara Falls native was involved in a car accident a few days before the Masters Series tournament in Toronto that left him with a mild case of whiplash and he fell in the first round.

"After the tournament I rested up a bit and participated in a couple of challenges," Dancevic said. "I've been practising for a couple of weeks and I feel great."

Dancevic makes his living on his serve and forehand, so the slow ball and surface are not factors that play to his strength. He is winless in four Davis Cup matches on clay but remains hopeful.

"I think I'm pretty good at playing on different surfaces. I've been playing pretty good the past couple of weeks."

Still, the Davis Cup win a year ago generated a maelstrom of positive press clippings. Dancevic was lauded as Canada's greatest tennis prospect.

Now, in Bucharest, on an uninviting surface against an imminently formidable opponent, he gets to prove it.


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