Updated: January 29, 2013 4:40 PM | By Monte Stewart, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com

Raonic puts Spanish lessons to Davis Cup test



VANCOUVER - Milos Raonic will try to use a little Spanish insight to help Canada beat Spain in Davis Cup action this weekend.

Canada's top-ranked men's singles tennis player uses Barcelona as his training base and deploys an exclusively Spanish coach. But Raonic does not expect to play like the opponents that he will face on the court in the first-round tie.

"I don't think you'll see too much Spanish tennis in me," said Raonic, known for his powerful serve and success on hardcourt — the surface that will be used at the UBC venue where the event is being held.

"But it's given me a lot of insight into the type of work that is necessary (to excel.) It's provided me with a team that I believe in, that trains with me all-year round."

Raonic has risen from 156th to as high as 13th in the world rankings in the past two years. Now ranked 15th, he employs former Spanish pro Galo Blanco as his personal coach, who is known for his demanding ways and gruelling training techniques.

Raonic also utilizes the services of a Spanish physical trainer and physiotherapist.

"I like the (Spanish) mentality and the competition that they provide in a training base," said Raonic.

By training in the off-season in Spain, the 22-year-old Thornhill, Ont., native can get away from the distractions and responsibilities related to his stardom at home in Canada.

"When I'm there, all I do is train and do what I need to do to get better," he said.

His Spanish insight will be needed as underdog Canada battles a Spain squad that has captured five Davis Cup titles, including three in the past five years, and was upset by the Czech Republic in the 2012 final.

Raonic rates as the top-ranked singles player in the best-of-five tie that runs from Friday to Sunday.

Spain will be without four of its highest-ranked players — David Ferrer (fourth), Rafael Nadal (fifth), Nicolas Almagro (11th) and Fernando Verdasco (24th) — for the tie this weekend.

While Nadal and Almagro will miss the tie in Vancouver through injury, Ferrer and Verdasco chose to to rest.

But Spain captain Alex Corretja said the favoured Spaniards will still impress in the hostile confines of the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

"We know how difficult it is going to be, but we are 100 per cent convinced about our chances," said Corretja. "We know that some of our best-ranking players are not here, but fortunately we’ve got lots of players in Spain where we can pick and they’re eager to play and they are very motivated."

Spain will be represented by Davis Cup rookies Albert Ramos (51st) and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (82nd) and doubles partners Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. Corretja declined to say which player will be the key singles player.

"It will be one of these four players," said a coy Corretja, sitting at a table with his team during a Spanish squad news conference that offered few nuggets.

The comment was an example of the gamesmanship that began early as teams tried to say all the right things without shedding much insight on how things might unfold during the weekend. Both squads appeared wary of doing anything that could give the opposition an advantage.

Accordingly, Corretja had good things to say about Raonic.

"For me, he’s one of the most talented players on the (ATP) tour right now," said Corretja. "Probably he’s going to be top 10 very soon.

"I think that it’s good that he’s (training in Spain.) He’s in a different country with a different mentality and a very good player."

The Canadian team includes Vancouver's Vasek Posposil, Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Toronto's Daniel Nestor, who all competed in Vancouver a year ago as Canada lost 4-1 to France and had to battle its way back to the World Group.

While much of the attention will be on Raonic in singles play, Saturday's doubles match will also be one to watch. Nestor, one of the world's best doubles players, and Raonic, nursing a minor knee injury, struggled last year as they fell to France.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Nestor indicated that he will likely play with Pospisil, with whom he partnered in the 2012 Olympics. But doing his part for the team, Pospisil tried to muddy the waters by suggesting he did not know who would be representing Canada in doubles.

Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau, who last year chose to go with the best player available for doubles — Raonic — rather than be swayed by such factors as chemistry, indicated he could defer to Nestor, 40, when it comes to picking Canada's other doubles player. Laurendeau said he leans on Nestor for advice on player selection and evaluation.

"Daniel, obviously with his experience, he's got a big voice in the locker-room," said Laurendeau.

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