Last night, a couple of hours after the end of the second rubber, the skies opened to violent thunderstorms, which changed the temperatures quite a bit. From the mid-high 20s of most of the week, it was a chilly, and very windy day that greeted us this morning in Montreal, and it was no better when the doubles rubber started.
The question was what incidence the wind may have on the match itself. But I don’t think it was for that much in what ended up happening, except that some serves and shots, on both sides, really did end up catching in the wind, like the backhand volley Daniel Nestor hit that ended up in the net to give the break to the South African team in the first set, or a few double faults on both ends in the second and third sets.
However, one fact remains clear: the Canadian team of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil did not play well and made many, many errors, which an opportune South African duo took whenever they could.
After Raven Klaasen and Izak Van Der Merwe took the first set, 6-4, the Canadian pair seemed to get some nerve back and logged a opportune break in the sixth game of the second set. Serving to tie the match at a set-all, Daniel Nestor quickly got to a 40-15 lead, then made two double faults. In the end, the South Africans got the break back, but Izak Van Der Merwe had to save two more set points on his own serve, one with a good first ball, the second with a forehand gone long from Vasek Pospisil.
The second set ended up in a tiebreak, where the Canadian team made a lot of errors, leading to Klaasen and Van Der Merwe taking an early lead, which they never relinquished, talking a two-set lead.
The third set started with an early break for the visitors. However, it turned out being almost a reverse copy of the second as, after saving one match point on Nestor’s serve at 2-5 and three more when Van Der Merwe attempted to serve out the match, the Canadians broke back on a double fault, and then held off opposition to force another tiebreak.
This time, again, it seemed that the tide would turn in favour of Canada, but another few mistakes were quick to give the lead back to South Africa. A costly error gave two more match points to Klaasen and Van Der Merwe. Canada saved the first one (the fifth of the South African team), but the sixth one, on their own serve, was a charm and South Africa stayed alive in the tie with a 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(5) win.
After the match, I asked the South African team what made the difference in the match. I really liked the detailed answer given me by captain John-Laffnie de Jager (who was quite the doubles player himself in his playing days):
“I thought that they made them play a lot of balls. That was our tactic, you know. We wanted to make these guys play and work for every point. We knew that we wouldn’t get a lot of opportunities but that all opportunities that we’d get they knew to execute it, and that’s exactly what they did and every opportunity they got, they took. I think that the 5-4 game when Danny served at 40-15 was a huge game. It was good for us to break there and, you know, to win that second set and then… I gotta say, it’s tough when you have match points and you lose the third set and then go into a fourth set. Because, you know, everything changes. But I think Raven and Izak really showed their composure well and, you know, to come back and win the break, it was great, in the third set.”
The South Africans also mentioned how important it was for them not to let the crowd get into the match, as they knew they could have an impact if the Canadians got back into the match, which, I’m sure, they got a taste of when the (sparse) crowd started cheering Izak Van Der Merwe’s first serve faults when he was serving out the match, a gesture I condemn from any crowd.
If the South African team was rightfully happy and elated from a win they worked hard to get, it remained a heartbreak for the Canadians, who really took it hard. If captain Martin Laurendeau expected a tough match, he did not expect his team to lose and was confident that they would win and clinch the tie.
Both Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil lamented their poor level of play during the match, and Pospisil went even further, taking all the blame for the loss. But as all said, they need to digest the defeat and move forward.
That forward is the fourth rubber, when Milos Raonic will face Van Der Merwe. To tell the truth, if he is as intense in tomorrow’s match as he was cheering his companions today, I wouldn’t want to be the guy on the other side of the net!
Van Der Merwe knows what’s awaiting him, and said that it’s not for him to focus on Milos’s serve, but rather to focus on his own game and on what he can do on his side of the court.
The rubber will start at 11:00 local on Sunday, and I don’t think a decisive fifth rubber will happen, to be honest. It should be a sunny and slightly warmer day in Montreal tomorrow, if you really need to know. And there are still lots of available seats if you are in town and want to come watch.