The first round tie between Japan and Canada should be a close-run contest with both teams able to rely on the services of a Top 20 player, but Kei Nishikori is well aware that his side has it all to do if it is to win a World Group tie for the first time.
“For sure it’s going to be a really tough match even if we play at home,” said Nishikori, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open before falling to Rafael Nadal. “Raonic and Vasek [Pospisil] are doing well right now and they have a great doubles so it’s not going to be an easy tie.”
One factor in Japan’s favour is that the venue for the first round tie has fond memories for Nishikori, who defeated Raonic 76(5) 36 60 in the final of the 2012 Rakuten Open to win his first Tour-level title on home soil.
“That was a great memory,” he said. “My first win in Japan, my country. It was really a tough match against Milos - he has a great serve and a big forehand. I was happy.”
The problem for Japan is that Canada is no longer a one-man singles team with a solid doubles pair, as Pospisil has risen up the world rankings to No. 30 and showed with his run to the third round at the Australian Open that he is not to be underestimated.
The 23-year-old Canadian did have to withdraw from the first Grand Slam of the year due to a back problem and it remains to be seen if he will have fully recovered from that ailment in time to take on Japan.
Either way, Nishikori knows what kind of player Pospisil has become owing to the fact that the pair train together at the IMG Academy in Florida.
For Nishikori, he will be looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd and believes that provided he can get the job done in the singles that his team has a chance to cause an upset.
He added: “I love to play team competition and I love to play for my country. It’s always fun. It’s a big advantage [playing at home], we have more support, we always play at the Ariake site, which is a little bit faster.
“I never feel the pressure. I have to win two singles to beat Canada but I just play my tennis and the result will come.”