Hurt Canucks miss chance

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

Opportunity knocked, but Canada's battered and bruised Davis Cup team did not answer.

Needing just a split in two singles matches against Belarus yesterday to advance to the elite 16-team World Group for the fourth time, Canada's health-challenged squad came up short in a couple of close encounters at the Rexall Centre.

In the wake of Max Mirnyi's surprisingly narrow 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over the gutsy Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, the erratic Vladimir Voltchkov sent Canada back to regional play in 2006 with an error-filled 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 victory over Frederic Niemeyer. Belarus goes to World Group play thanks to its come-from-behind 3-2 win, while Canada finds itself in Americas Zone Group 1 in 2006.

"It was an uphill battle from the very beginning," Canada captain Martin Laurendeau said. "Just so many injuries, even before the camp began. We had four out of five guys injured. It's a great tribute to our medical staff that they got our guys in condition to be able to compete against these guys and put us in position to be in the last match."

The injured list included Dancevic (wrist), Daniel Nestor (wrist) and non-playing fourth player Rob Steckley (groin). Dancevic, who tore a tendon in his wrist four weeks ago, was supposed to be out six to eight weeks. Instead, he played through pain, including a hip injury in the third set yesterday that caused him to limp in the match's latter stages.

"(Dancevic) wasn't even supposed to play," Laurendeau said. "It was an unbelievable turnaround to pick up a racquet 2 1/2 weeks after (suffering the injury) and defying all odds."

The 188th-ranked Dancevic was on serve with the 27th-ranked Mirnyi until the final game of the match. But he double-faulted on the first point and never regained the lead.

"It (his hip) started getting pretty painful towards the middle of the fourth set," said Dancevic, who took an injury timeout in the third set.

"I just pushed through. There's no way you can stop playing a match like this, Davis Cup, in front of your home crowd."

Canada's goal was to beat the 185th-ranked Voltchkov twice in singles and win the doubles match. It was on track to do that until the ugly finale -- only about 400 of 2,500 fans stuck around to watch it -- when Niemeyer double-faulted 14 times and gave up six break points.

"It's a tough one to swallow, for sure," Laurendeau said.

Canada returns to Davis Cup competition in February and will need wins in its next two ties to return to a World Group playoff in 2006.

Croatia and Slovakia won their World Group semi-finals yesterday, setting up the World Group final Dec. 2-4.


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