Vasek Pospisil was the hero for Canada as they beat Israel 3-2 in an epic Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie on Sunday to advance to the 2012 World Group for the first time in seven years.
The Canadians were slight favourites before the tie began but Israel have an excellent home record and were hoping that aspect would compensate for the shortfall. But the hosts did not take into account the cool head and excellent performance of Pospisil, the Canadian No. 2 singles player, who was largely responsible for the victory.
Israel went into the reverse singles 2-1 down but Dudi Sela then levelled the tie with a straight-sets win against Peter Polansky, who stood in for the injured Milos Raonic, to set up the epic finish in which Pospisil beat Israel’s No. 2 singles player, Amir Weintraub, 62 76(3) 64 in a match that lasted two and a half hours.
The home crowd had willed Weintraub on from the start, knowing that the relatively inexperienced player, who gave himself a 25th birthday present on Friday when he upset Raonic, would have to raise his game to heights he had never previously attained. But Pospisil, just like he had done throughout the tie, knuckled down to the task at hand and got on with what he did best this weekend – winning.
He won the first set 6-2, shutting out the din from the crowd, and then struggled in the second set as he looked to be tiring. But somehow he managed to stave off two set points to win it on a tiebreak. Weintraub continued to fight gallantly in the final set, getting to winning situations only to be undone by one of some two dozen aces by Pospisil.
“You can’t describe this feeling, it’s definitely the best moment of my tennis career,” Pospisil said.
Weintraub paid tribute to his opponent, saying Pospisil had been the joker in the Canadian pack.
“Pospisil made it hard for all of us, he came and took this tie all by himself … he was playing amazing, big returns, unbelievable serving, especially when he was tired he came out and he deserves all the applause,” the Israeli said.
Pospisil’s was a mature performance from a 21-year-old whom his captain, Martin Laurendeau, said was worthy of a veteran player.
“We have to give him huge credit because he was very strong through the finish line and got three points here, that is a very rare feat,” Laurendeau said.
He added: “It was just great for us, this is a historic moment … we did it this year with all the ties on the road … everybody contributed and it will be a moment we will share for a long time as a team.”
Laurendeau said he had decided late on Saturday to call on Polansky instead of Raonic, who is still recuperating from the hip injury that sidelined him in June.
Israeli captain Eyal Ran congratulated the Canadians for their achievement and said his players would be back next year to try again to get into the World Group.
“They deserve the victory. Pospisil played an amazing tie and their whole team, and I think they will be a tough team in the future,” he said.
But despite the defeat, the Israeli captain felt that there were many positives his players could take from their performance.
“Everybody came out encouraged from this tie … and having the option to play in Group I and to go back to the World Group is exciting for us. I hope that everybody will take something good from this tie and come back to fight next year,” he added.
Sela sets up grandstand finish
Sela, No. 96 in the world rankings, started off hesitantly against Polansky (No. 573) but utilised his experience to get through some lean patches and win 63 63 63 in 2 hours 21 minutes on a hot and humid afternoon.
Raonic was forced to withdraw from the reverse singles due to his hip injury which has been the cause of his lay-off since Wimbledon. He was also struck down with a virus 36 hours before the first day's play but had declared himself fully recovered, although he lost in four sets to Amir Weintraub, a match, according to the rankings, he should have won.
Sela plugged away from the baseline, attempting to penetrate Polansky's backhand and although both players had their fair share of unforced errors, Sela's greater experience saw him through to deliver the expected result.
Polansky gained his first break in the sixth game of the third set but was unable to capitalise and was immediately broken back.
Sela has competed in 26 ties since 2005 compared to Polansky's ninth appearance in the competition. The Israeli used his experience to maintain his dominance despite playing in front of a sparse crowd early on before spectators arrived after school and work – Sunday is a working day in Israel.
Up until this point the tie had gone against form in all matches, with Pospisil upsetting Sela in five long sets in the first rubber on Friday before Weintraub beat Raonic.
The tie swung in Canada's favour after Daniel Nestor and Pospisil teamed up to beat Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich in Saturday's doubles rubber on the court where the Israelis had lost only once before in almost a decade of playing together for Israel.
"It was not good tennis but I gave everything, I'm just not able to play well, but now I hope that Amir will come out and do the job for us," Sela said.