TORONTO — For a quarter of a century Canada's Davis Cup team revolved around doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. But there was a changing of the guard on Sunday as the 46-year-old Nestor officially retired from international competition, 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime went through his rookie initiation, and Milos Raonic stepped into a leadership role.
Raonic dispatched Scott Griekspoor in three sets to give Canada a 3-1 win over the Netherlands in their Davis Cup world group qualification playoff. Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., beat Griekspoor 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, for his second win of the five-match tie.
Nestor leaves big shoes to fill, but world No. 20 Raonic hopes to become Canada's leader in the locker room and not just on the court.
"I would like to, I would like to," said Raonic. "Even over the years, just by being No. 1 on the team most of the time, you sort of fall into it but there's always been Daniel there.
"Daniel lightens things up. I definitely take a different approach than he does. I stay a little bit more quiet than he does."
Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., won his singles rubber on Friday night, while Nestor, from Toronto, and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil lost their doubles rubber on Saturday.
The tie earned Canada a seeded position in next year's Davis Cup world group draw. The international men's tennis competition will undergo a format change in 2019 and Canada's next opponent is not yet known.
Captain Frank Dancevic is optimistic about what the future holds in a post-Nestor world.
"We've proven this weekend how good we are. We played a tough team. (The Dutch) are not easy customers," said Dancevic, who is second only to Nestor in Davis Cups played for Canada. "The more we can have these guys playing for us, the further we can get and the better chance we have of winning this whole thing one day."
Griekspoor was subbed in for No. 44 Robin Haase an hour before the match. The 27-year-old was making his Davis Cup debut and is ranked 224th on the ATP Tour. He peaked at No. 205 in the world on Aug. 6. Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis confirmed that Haase had tweaked his knee on Friday and did not feel up to practising, let alone playing, on Sunday.
Despite being a lopsided matchup on paper, Griekspoor came out strong, taking a 3-1 lead in the first set. Raonic, who watched a YouTube video of Griekspoor before the match to prepare, adapted over the course of the match, leaning more and more on his big serve, firing a total of 23 aces to Griekspoor's five.
"I just tried to do what I needed to do and then see what the adjustments were that I needed to make after that," said Raonic. "I thought he played well. He didn't have much to lose, but also there is the stresses of the Davis Cup, especially his first match, playing to stay alive.
"I thought he stepped up and played with a lot of courage. Played some brave tennis and he did a lot of things well."
Nestor was honoured in a pre-match ceremony where he was inducted into Canada's Tennis Hall of Fame.
His skill in doubles competition made him invaluable to Canada at the Davis Cup, as he competed in 53 ties over 25 years, a reliable player who earned a team-best 33-13 in doubles and was 15-15 in singles rubbers.
After Raonic's victory sealed Canada's win in the tie, the fifth match was cancelled.
Instead, alternate player Auger-Aliassime went through some light hazing, having to play a rally with Nestor in nothing but his underwear and shoes. Tennis Canada's players, staff and lingering fans watched on as Nestor toyed with the Montrealer, forcing him to race all over the hard court at Toronto's Coca-Cola Coliseum.
"(My initiation) was tougher than Felix's, that's for sure," said Raonic with a laugh. He had to dance in front of fans after playing Colombia in 2010. "I picked YMCA because I thought all it said was 'YMCA' but I learned very quickly that wasn't it. They played it on repeat a few times.
"I think it probably negatively traumatized me for the first two years of my career. But it gave me confidence and character and made me who I am today."
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