TORONTO – It seemed like a sure thing.
As the Davis Cup moved into its final day of play yesterday at Toronto’s Centre of Excellence (inside the Rexall Centre), the Canadian coronation seemed undeniable with Frank Dancevic one shot away from pushing his country into the next round. Within seconds, it was all gone with Nicolas Lapentti drawing on his experience to pull out the comeback win, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-1 pushing Ecuador into the second round against Peru in May.
Canada held a 2-1 advantage heading into the final day of play on Sunday after Dancevic’s singles rubber victory on Friday and Daniel Nestor/Frederic Niemeyer winning their doubles rubber on Saturday. While this seemed like can’t-lose for the canucks, everything went downhill starting with Dancevic’s loss in the four and a half hour marathon.
Things started badly for the Canadian who couldn’t break Lapentti despite being given three opportunities in the first game of the match as the Ecuadorian went on to take the first set (6-3).
The second set was a much closer contest as the players managed to break each other’s serves early before holding onto serve until the 12th game where Dancevic was finally able to break again on his third set point (7-5).
The third set also featured strong play from both warriors, but Dancevic appeared to have the match in hand after breaking Lapentti’s serve in the 10th game to take the set (6-4) giving him a one-set lead.
Then came the fourth, where everything started to go wrong. After initially cruising to a 4-1 lead, Dancevic’s legs started to cramp and the player was forced to take a medical timeout after allowing his opponent to get back into the set at 5-4. The set eventually went to a tiebreak where Dancevic had to chances to seal the victory but failed to close them out. Lapentti went on to win the tiebreaker (8-6) and then went onto to crush the checked-out Canadian in the final set (6-1).
At a post-game press conference, Dancevic appeared completely broken and blamed his injury when asked what went wrong.
“Obviously, it affected me,” Dancevic said. “I was burnt, I had no legs.”
He admitted that the game was “probably the worst experience” of his life in tennis and that he had the match in his hands and “let it slip away.”
As one might expect, while the loss was hard to swallow for the loser, the victor claimed it was one of the sweetest victories of his career.
“It was one of the best wins I have had in my career,” Nicolas Lapentti said. The Ecuadorian disclosed that he drew on his experience to comeback.
“I’ve been in this situation a thousand times. I am very happy with how I played and how I hung in there.”
After his win, Nicolas handed the proverbial racquet to his younger brother, Giovanni Lapentti, who secured a four-set victory over Frederic Niemeyer, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-3 in the winner-take-all match which almost had a playoff-hockey feeling to it.
Niemeyer looked very strong in the opening set of the match but, like Dancevic, was worn down by the tenacity of his opponent.
“I am extremely disappointed for the team. I feel like I didn’t do my job this time,” he said.
Still, Dancevic summed up the day for Canadian tennis fans the best.
“It’s amazing how one point can make you a hero or make you a bum and right now, I feel like a bum,” he said.
Canada now will play Uruguay from July 10-12, 2009 to keep its position inside Americas Zone Group I.
– This was my first Davis Cup experience and the difference between it and the Rogers Cup was definitely noticeable.
– In the smaller venue, the event definitely appealed more to tennis fans rather than casual or ‘fairweather’ observers.
– The patriotism could not be understated as fans from both countries added an electric atmosphere to the Centre of Excellence.