Raonic-Nishikori rivalry arrives in Vancouver


It’s been a treat for tennis fans every time Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have gone head-to-head, and that should be no different when the two face off this weekend in Vancouver.

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Raonic and Nishikori lead their respective squads into a first-round Davis Cup World Group tie between Canada and Japan that will take place Friday to Sunday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.

It’s a rematch of last year’s first round tie, which Japan won handily at home, but Canada was without Raonic and Vasek Pospisil when losing 4-1 as the away team.

While a trip to the World Group quarter-finals is up for grabs, there will be major focus on a meeting between Raonic and Nishikori, who have built up a nice rivalry over the past year thanks to some memorable matches.

“It’s always great playing Kei,” Raonic said Wednesday after a practice session with Pospisil. “We have great matches either way it goes. It’s always a difficult match and it’s fun to be a part of. We compete very hard out there.

“(We have) very different styles, but I think that makes it more enjoyable to watch.”

The hard-serving Raonic, currently ranked sixth in the world, and the quick and clinical Nishikori, who jumped to No. 4 in the rankings earlier this week, have met five times since the beginning of 2014, including last year’s five-set marathon at the U.S. Open that went nearly 4 1/2 hours and ended at 2:26 a.m. to equal a tournament record for latest finish.

Nishikori won that battle, but Raonic was victorious in their latest meeting at the Brisbane International in January.

“Probably another classic like they have played so far,” Canadian head coach Martin Laurendeau said when asked his expectations of another Raonic-Nishikori duel. “They’re both great competitors, they’re both on the rise, they’re both at the top of the standings.

“It’s going to be a beauty of a match if it comes down to that.”

Since the two have never faced each other in Davis Cup play, the added wrinkle of national pride being on the line gives a potential match between Raonic and Nishikori – their respective countries’ highest-ranked players of all-time – some extra intrigue.

“It’s a great honour, especially when it’s a team atmosphere – (it’s) more fun doing the week of preparation,” Raonic said of representing Canada, which also has Daniel Nestor and Frank Dancevic on the roster. “When it comes down to playing those matches, it’s the most important part (that) you’re playing for Canada, you want to go out there to win, and you find any way possible.”

Laurendeau said his team is looking forward to feeding off the support they’ve felt from Canadian fans when playing Davis Cup matches here in the past. But that may end up being the extent of the home-court advantage for the Canadian crew.

“Team Japan is very good,” he said. “They don’t mind these courts. They like the conditions here. That’s what they played us on back in Japan, basically.

“Kei is playing fantastic and he’s a one-man wrecking machine. We’ve gotta take care of him, but also the rest of the team.”

The official draw for the weekend takes place Thursday afternoon.