Facing a team missing both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, minnows Canada are looking to serve up an upset when they meet powerhouse Spain in their Davis Cup tie this weekend.
"We need all the help we can get that way. But in the end, Spain has a tremendous team, they have incredible depth and it's not the way we're going to approach this tie about who's not playing," said Canada captain Martin Laurendeau Monday in Vancouver.
"It's about who are we going to face and all their guys are top 100, fierce competitors, warriors and they know how to win. Spain has been in the finals four of the last five years and we'll have our hands full with the team that they sent."
The World Group (top 16 tennis countries and regions) clash is too early for Nadal, the 11-time Grand Slam champion, who has been out since June with tendinitis and a stomach virus. The world No. 5 announced earlier he won't return to the ATP circuit until Feb. 4 when he plays in next week's Chile Open.
Ferrer, the world No. 4, who was pummeled in the Australian Open semi-finals last week by eventual champion Novak Djokovic, announced in December he was skipping the first round of the Davis Cup, due to the demands of tour play.
Spain, a five-time victor and runner-up to the Czech Republic last year in the men's team event, received another blow when world No. 11 Nicolas Almagro was ruled out Friday by the Spanish tennis federation after undergoing tests stemming from the effects of his run to the final eight at the Australian Open.
He is replaced by world No. 82 singles player Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who joins the doubles team of Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, winners of the 2012 ATP World finals doubles title, and singles player Albert Ramos (No. 51).
Playing on the fast, hard-court surface at the University of British Columbia venue, instead of the clay courts favored by the Spaniards, Laurendeau will field a team featuring rising star Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil (No. 127), Frank Dancevic (No. 165) and 40-year-old doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. It is the same team Canada had last year when it was beaten 4-1 by France in Davis Cup World Group first round play.
Overall, Canada is 0-4 in Davis Cup World Group play.
The towering Raonic, a two-time winner on the ATP last year, is currently ranked world No. 15. The Monte Carlo-based 22-year-old received a good indication where his level of play is at last week when he was bounced by Swiss legend Roger Federer in straight sets in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Raonic, who won Canada's only match against France last year, said he was feeling good physically after Australia. He noted he had played all of the Spanish singles players in practice but not competition and felt even with their top players out it would still be very difficult for Canada to win.
"You look at the guys they brought, they're still all experienced guys, and they know how to play in these situations," he said. "Spain is a country who knows how to win in Davis Cup, so it's still a very tough situation."
After last year's Davis Cup loss to France, Raonic felt the experience had greatly improved the Canadian team.
"I think we're getting better as a team, we're getting stronger. People are individually improving and as a team we're improving. Our chemistry is a lot better, team dynamics a lot better, and it's all more enjoyable for us."
World No. 4 doubles player Nestor made it to the final 16 at the Australian Open with partner Mahesh Bhupathi before getting knocked out. Laurendeau said it was still too early to name who would be playing with Nestor in the doubles match Saturday.
"This is Monday. We're a long ways from Friday and Saturday and we're not there yet," said Laurendeau when asked if Raonic would be his choice.
"We're going to focus on the Friday singles and just like we did against France and against any other tie, we evaluate the physical fitness of the guys, and who's healthy and who's got any injuries if there are, and who's playing well, who's not, but we're going to stick with the same process."