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A Year of Firsts for Milos Raonic and Canada

Milos Raonic

By Mark McCormick

 

Canada, a country that is so passionate for hockey, has had their eyes on tennis lately. Tennis? Canada is one of the coldest countries in the world, but that hasn’t stopped the rapid rise of tennis star Milos Raonic from training. The 2013 season has been a groundbreaking year for the young Canadian, cracking into the world’s top 10 for the first time in Canadian tennis history, reaching his first Masters 1000 Series final, and leading his country to the Davis Cup semifinals.

In an interview with AskMen, Raonic talks about his rise in Canadian tennis. “The pressure is really what you make of it, and I like to make more for myself than anyone else will, so I always push myself. The responsibility I have is a great thing, from helping tennis grow in Canada, but also in the future, being able to do stuff through my foundation, helping kids. And helping everyone I can, and really trying to make a difference.”

The 22-year-old is one of the youngest in the top 100, and has shown no signs of stumbling in the rankings. The 6’5” Canadian has a booming serve, and a big forehand. The powerful shots that Raonic possesses show a glimpse of what could possibly be the future of tennis.

Earlier in the summer this year, Raonic hired former top player Ivan Ljubicic as his full time head coach. Ljubicic’s work with Raonic has shown positive results. The months of August and September were important for Raonic. In the big matches he played, however, he didn’t make that big step. When Raonic reached his first Masters 1000 Series finals in Montreal in August, he had Canada on his back. The final for Raonic was a bit of a disappointment for Canadian fans, when Raonic fell 6-2 6-2 to Rafael Nadal. Granted, he was playing against one of the greatest players of all time, but this was a big chance to make a statement. Sadly, his nerves got the best of him.

A couple weeks later, he made the fourth round at Flushing Meadows. He reached the fourth round there last year, and had a legitimate chance to get into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal ever. He was playing against world No. 9 Richard Gasquet. Gasquet hadn’t been in a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam since 2007. Raonic dictated for most of the match, until fatigue came in late in the fourth set. Raonic was leading two sets to one, with several break points to go up a break early in the fifth set, but failed to capitalize again.

Nine days after his exit at the U.S. Open, Raonic led the Canadian tennis team into its first Davis Cup semifinal in over a century. Canada held a 2-1 lead going into the final day of the semi’s, but fell 3-2, with Raonic losing to Djokovic in the fourth rubber.

A wild stretch of firsts for Raonic ended in disappointments, but his run isn’t going to end yet this year.

En Bangkok, en route to the title, Raonic dismantled Feliciano Lopez in straight sets 6-4 6-3. His statistics were off the charts. Raonic had 19 aces serving at 86% for the whole match, and gave up eight points on his serve the whole match!

Raonic’s best surface is indoor hard courts. The post U.S. Open Asia swing is mostly played on hard courts and indoor hard courts. The Paris Masters is a big event for Raonic to make a deep run in. This tournament is played indoors, and is the one Masters 1000 tournament that lacks the most top players. His confidence is high still despite tough losses, and has a legitimate shot at making the ATP World Tour Year End Finals, which is also played indoors.

What does 2014 hold for Raonic? Big things. His unforced errors have cut down immensely, especially on his backhand. His inside out forehand is huge on the return game. His main focus in the off season has to be working on his return game. If Raonic can get more balls into play on the return, he has a better chance of getting into rallies, and trying to put himself into position to run around a forehand and put the ball away.

Raonic opens up his 2014 season at the Brisbane International, where he will be one of the top seeds going into the event. He lost in the second round last year in Brisbane, so he will have a chance at gaining points to boost his ranking. He’ll get a week after Brisbane to recuperate and head into the Australian Open most likely as a top 16 seed. This time, he’ll have a more favorable draw at the Grand Slam he plays best at. If he gets matched up in any of the top 8’s quarters except Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, he will have a serious shot at making his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

From the Asia swing to mid-February, Raonic can make his statement known on the hard courts. His chances of cracking into the top 8 are very likely. He has already proven to tennis fans how much of a threat he is from his results this summer. It may be a slight surprise to see his name ranked among the names of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, but come February, it may happen. Don’t be surprised if you see the name Milos Raonic on sports headlines in mid-January, because his hard work and talent is going to be known to all sports fans very soon.

 

Marino takes inspirational step back from tennis

Rebecca Marino steps away from tennis for a second time.

By Melissa Boyd

Former world no. 38 Rebecca Marino announced last week that she is stepping away from tennis for the second time in a year. The 22-year-old Canadian revealed that she has been dealing with depression for the past six years and was also a victim of cyber bullying. She felt this to be the best time to move on with the next chapter of her life without completely leaving tennis behind.

“I’m looking at other endeavours at this point. I would like to go to school, seek a job that sort of stuff, but I am very careful not to use the word retiring because I don’t feel it very appropriate because tennis will still be a very big part of my life,” Marino said.

While Marino openly discussed her struggles, she made it clear that depression and cyber bullying were not the reasons behind her decision to leave the sport.

“Social media has also taken its toll on me, it’s not the main reason I’m stepping back neither is the depression. Those are just two parts of my life that I would like to bring awareness to and wipe the slate clean in a sense so that it’s all out in the open. The reason I am stepping back is just because I don’t think I am willing to sacrifice my happiness and other parts of my life to tennis,” Marino explained.

Marino’s rise to the upper echelon of the women’s game was a rapid one, and somewhat unexpected given that she was a late bloomer. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia began playing tennis at the age of 10. At 17, Marino spent half a year in Switzerland and at 19, she moved from Vancouver to Montreal to train at Tennis Canada’s National Tennis Centre which is where her career took off. Marino enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011 that saw her reach her first WTA final in Memphis and the third round at Roland-Garros. She posted two Top 20 wins over Marion Bartoli and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, played a memorable match against Venus Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, and also won three consecutive Challenger titles during the Fall indoor hard court season in 2010.

Regardless of how much success she enjoyed on the court, Marino’s most inspirational moment came last week when she revealed the details of her battle with a disease that so many are afraid to talk about. She became a hero in the eyes of many, especially those who are also struggling with depression and cyber bullying. Over the past week, Marino has done countless interviews and been approached by the likes of Canadian Olympic legend Clara Hughes who also suffers from depression.  Her courage in coming forward will not only change her life, but also the lives of so many others.

“I’d like to get rid of the stigma attached to depression and mental illnesses in the public and in professional sports,” Marino said. “Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If I can open up about my struggle to the public, I hope I can give someone the courage to seek the help they deserve.”

Marino had a great run in tennis, one that should be celebrated and not remembered with the premise of what could have been.

Milos Raonic Leads Canada to an Historic Davis Cup Victory over Spain

Raonic Leads Canada to Davis Cup Win

Milos Raonic won both of his singles matches, including earning the winning point on Sunday, to send Canada into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas  World Group quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history this weekend after defeating top-ranked Spain 3-2 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

With Canada entering the Sunday reverse singles with a 2-1 lead following a singles sweep of day one  and a doubles loss on day two, Raonic  clinched victory for his team with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the fourth rubber. The 22-year-old Canadian was in control from the outset, hitting 22 aces and 55 winners. He saved the one break point he faced and broke Garcia Lopez’s on four occasions, including twice in the final set.

“It’s amazing to do everything we’ve done,” Raonic said. “I’ve been a minor part of it for the past few years consistently and to be able to get the win and have this conversation for the first time, it’s pretty amazing. I’m very proud with how I managed everything and how we pulled through.”

Raonic may be grabbing all of the headlines for his clinching win, but Frank Dancevic is the Canadian hero in the eyes of many after he put forth one of the most impressive performances in the history of Davis Cup en route to dismantling Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to give Canada a commanding 2-0 lead after day one. Dancevic was, to put it mildly, in the zone and put his immense natural talent on full display.

“Just walking out on to the court I had goose bumps, and you know that everyone is behind you and that helps you play through tough situations,” Dancevic said. “The crowd was unbelievable, there were certain times when the match was difficult, and they gave me an edge. They motivated me to refocus on the point and I felt like they also put a little pressure on Granollers because the crowd was so behind me today.”

Playing without their biggest stars, This marks the first time since 2006 that Spain, the Davis Cup runner up in 2012 and champion in 2011, has lost a first round tie in World Group. In their first World Group quarter-final appearance, Canada will face Italy in the quarter-finals at home from April 5-7. Italy defeated Croatia 3-2 in the opening round thanks to a win by Fabio Fognini in the decisive fifth rubber.

“It’s a long process when you’re in group one and you’ve got to battle it out in a lot of places and for a spell there we seemed to play on the road so much,” said team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau, speaking of Canada’s journey into the World Group quarter-finals that began years ago. “I think we had a bit of a window a couple of years ago but still we were down 2-0 to Ecuador in 2011, and from there we just turned it around. We play that tie and the next one away and since then we’ve been in Canada and we’ll do that again in April. We’re happy to be in the quarters but we feel like we can keep on going. We’re riding a good wave right now and we’ve got to make the most of it while it lasts.”

The final total attendance for all three days of the tie is 17, 796, which is a new Canadian Davis Cup record.

Another Federer Quarter

Federer after his straight sets win

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE – History was not on the side of Canadian Milos Raonic. In fact when the vast majority of the tour face Federer, statistics and history are not on their side.

No Canadian, not including defectors, had ever made it to a grand slam quarter final. Federer on the other hand has reached the grand slam quarterfinals 34 consecutive times. That is 136 victories, a hefty number to shift, meaning Federer doesn’t lose unless his opponent truly deserves to be there. It also means that Federer is a perfect employee, never taking a day off.

The big Canuck is an interesting specimen, duly if Andy Roddick and Richard Krajicek had a baby, Milos Raonic would be the result, although no speculation exists for that union to ever take place.

Indeed, if you squinted your eyes and used your imagination only slightly, you might well have been watching a Federer Roddick match, and the result of those was usually fail-safe.

This was never going to resemble a clay court match, with Milos going for glory early with big serves or cracking groundstrokes, knowing full well if he tried to out rally he was doomed. Federer meanwhile relished the ball in play, bullying the Raonic backhand every chance he had.

“I think I played tactically well tonight and was able to keep the points short on my own service games, used the 1-2 punch. That was obviously also a good thing tonight.” Federer stated in his post match press conference.

Quickly Federer started to read the massive Raonic serve, although initially he could only muster a block return although instinctively returning the ball from within the baseline.

Raonic was in trouble when 2-3 down in the first set facing a few break points. Calmly he fired two Sampras style aces, causing all worry of a break to simply vanish.

At 4-5 the tension built again, giving Federer a set point. As has so often been the case the computer assistance was switched on, unfairly in Federer’s advantage, prompting Raonic to net a relatively easy volley.

Of considerable interest is Federer’s chameleon approach, feeling the need to better his opponent when it comes to their particular strength. To which Federer stated, “Important obviously was first to focus on my own serve before even thinking about how to return Milos. But I did a good job tonight.  As the match went on, I started to feel better. But that’s kind of normal.”

The second set continued much like the first although Raonic held his nerve longer. This time the set wasn’t decided until 3-3 in the tiebreak. Federer took the advantage by delivering a Wawrinka inspired backhand down the line that could only make you wonder if great backhands were given away for free in Swiss cereal boxes.

Federer’s scream of joy directed towards his entourage was heard throughout the arena, whilst Raonic ambled despondently to his chair, with more on mind his than just the overwhelming score line. Raonic told reporters, “well, long story short, until probably 45 minutes to an hour before the match, I wasn’t even sure I’d play.  I rushed over to get a quick MRI on my foot.  I was having issues walking.  I got the clear to play after that.  I just had an anaesthesia injection into my foot.  I was given the go to play.”

Subsequently Raonic stumbled to open the third set, and kept on stumbling. Federer meanwhile was on autopilot, treating the crowd to a level of on court purity that only a very small amount of players experience, breezing to victory 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.

“Most of the times you play good, you know. When you play very good, that’s rare. So just have to try to have as many good days or great days as you can, and that’s why I push hard in practice and keep myself in shape.”

Federer faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the next round marking his 35th straight quarterfinal.

 

Eugenie Bouchard eager for her next tennis transition

Eugenie Bouchard is ready for her first full year on the pro circuit.

By Melissa Boyd

Dec. 3, 2012 — Eugenie Bouchard has been on the Canadian tennis radar for almost as long as she has been swinging a racquet. Labeled early on as the potential ‘next one’ to follow in the footsteps of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Helen Kelesi, and Aleksandra Wozniak, Bouchard has begun carving her own path to greatness thanks to a breakout season in 2012.

The 18-year-old native of Montreal made history in July when she was crowned girls’ singles and doubles champion at Wimbledon, becoming the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. Bouchard actually won 19 consecutive matches this summer with her Wimbledon triumph sandwiched between titles at the ITF junior event in Roehampton and the $25,000 pro Challenger in Granby.

“Winning Wimbledon was a really tough tourney. It was a junior (event). I had the pressure all week. People expected me to win because I was playing women younger than me. So it was a big mental test and I was really proud that I was able to come through,” said Bouchard in an interview last week with a select group of reporters.

Many in attendance on Court 1 at SW19 were impressed with Bouchard’s poise and maturity in posting a convincing win over Elina Svitolina in the Wimbledon girls’ singles final on one of the biggest stages in tennis. She put her mental toughness on display at the Rogers Cup in Montreal when she out-toughed Shahar Peer, one of the best competitors in the women’s game, to earn her first Top 50 victory.

Perhaps the most impressive stretch of Bouchard’s year came during the Fall indoor season when she put her aggressive style of play on full display, reaching the final at the Saguneay Challenger and the following week winning her first $50,000 Challenger in Toronto. Bouchard suffocated her opponents with her offense-first mentality, losing just a handful of games en route to the title in Toronto and dominating Melanie Oudin in the Saguenay semifinals. The run secured her place in the Australian Open qualifying draw which will be her first Grand Slam as a pro.

“I had great coaches when I was young and they taught me to take the ball on the rise. I think that’s it really important in the women’s game,” said Bouchard. “Of course you want to hit fast, but you want to hit it early as well … Hitting it fast takes time away from your opponent.”

With 2012 now in her rear view mirror and the tennis world at her fingertips, Bouchard is ready to make the transition to becoming a full-time WTA pro in 2013. She is fully aware of the challenges awaiting her if she wants to prove that her 2012 campaign was no fluke.

“The top players in the world have a little something extra,” said Bouchard. “They don’t make mistakes and they don’t give you any free points, you have to earn them.”

Even though her career is just getting started, Bouchard is already turning heads off the court as much as she is impressing on it. Their obvious physical likeness and similar game styles have people drawing comparisons between the Canadian and her idol Maria Sharapova. Not to mention that Bouchard was recently chosen by Sharapova to wear her line of Nike tennis clothing. She is the whole package and her bubbly personality is a hit with fans. Even though it’s early, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement surrounding Bouchard and she knows that the onus is now on her to deliver on those expectations and send a message that the future is now.

“There is pressure from everyone around me, but I already put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Bouchard. “It’s nice to know that people think I am going to be good because that’s what I believe too, but I have to focus on what I have to do to become that player.”

Tennis Canada nominates olympic representatives for London

Milos Raonic & Daniel Nestor will represent Canada in London

By Melissa Boyd

Tennis Canada has announced the four players nominated for selection to the Canadian Olympic Team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Daniel Nestor, Vasek Pospisil, Milos Raonic, and Aleksandra Wozniak will represent Canada in London. Raonic and Wozniak will play singles while Nestor and Pospisil will team up for doubles.

In singles, the Top 56 players in the world as of the June 11 rankings deadline receive direct entry into the tennis event provided they meet all other requirements set out for qualification. Raonic sits at No. 21 in the world while Wozniak’s third round appearance at the French Open lifted her to the exact cut-off point of No. 56. It will be the first Olympic Games for both.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming since I’m a little girl, and my dream came true today,” Wozniak said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere than playing in the Grand Slams and on the WTA Tour, something where you’ll be with the best athletes around the world in all different sports”.

For the doubles event, each of the Top 10 players receives direct entry with a compatriot of their choice. As the No. 1 doubles player in the world, Nestor has elected to play with first-time Olympic hopeful Pospisil. The duo holds a 2-0 Davis Cup record, including a pivotal win against Grand Slam champions Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram during Canada’s World Group play-off versus Israel last September.

London will represent the fifth consecutive time Nestor has represented Canada at the Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he won gold with partner Sebastien Lareau marking the first, and only, tennis medal in Canadian history.

“I’m very proud to be in a position where I can represent my country and hopefully bring back another medal,” said Nestor. “It was quite a special feat winning Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and with the growth of tennis in our country, we all can have a chance to make Canada proud.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will announce the full official list of entries on June 28 which will include the ITF places in singles and doubles. Additional nominations for players who did not make the rankings cut-off can be submitted to the ITF to be considered for ITF places.

“Congratulations to these four tennis players on joining the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team,” said 2012 Team Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury. “I know you will give your everything to make Canadian fans proud in London.”

Rejuvenated Wozniak is Dreaming Olympic Big

Aleksandra Wozniak is back in the mix

Following a tumultuous two seasons that were mired by injuries and coaching uncertainty, former world no.21 Aleksandra Wozniak has shown Top 25 form this season and is making her way back up the rankings with a renewed passion for her sport.

Wozniak became the first Canadian in 20 years to win a WTA singles title when she was crowned champion at Stanford in 2008 and appeared to destined to contend for titles for many years to come. Now 24 years old and with her hardships a thing of the past, the Wozniak hitting the court is definitely the 2.0 version. After finishing the 2011 season ranked outside the Top 100, she came into the off-season  100 percent healthy for the first time in a while. Wozniak took up boxing to improve her strength and agility. Her hard work is paying dividends so far in 2012.

Wozniak has also brought her father, Antoni back in the fold as her full-time coach. He introduced her to tennis when she was three years old and is the master technician behind her smooth strokes. Wozniak appreciates having her recently retired Dad around every day to work on the little things.

“ I am able to take my Dad on the road with me which is tremendous and makes a big difference because he can always keep improving my game,” Wozniak said. “He sees things right away and those little details make a big difference in my game. I think I’m pretty close to where I was, but I think I am coming back differently and stronger than before.”

Wozniak has improved her ranking by more than 50 places since the start of the season and finds herself ranked firmly inside the Top 60 again. Perhaps most impressive though is the kind of matches she is winning, the long, exhausting type. Matches she would have never been able to win earlier in her career. Wozniak has also played the top players very tough, losing 7-5 in the third to Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai and dropping a third set tiebreak to Venus Williams in Miami after holding a match point.

She is battling and fighting harder than ever with one lifelong dream motivating her every move, representing Canada at this summer’s Olympic Games in London. At no. 56 on the world rankings and with few points to defend until Roland-Garros, Wozniak has put herself in a good position to earn an Olympic berth.

“As an athlete, to know you made it to the Olympics, I can’t even describe it,” Wozniak added. “For me it’s very important to represent my country the best that I can. It’s a big privilege to represent Canada at the  greatest sporting event in the world. For any athlete it is very special and it would be really exciting.”

Not only is Wozniak a transformed player, but she’s also a different person. Physically, she looks better than  ever and her renewed confidence is evident in the way she carries herself. Her likeable, radiant personality makes it easy to root for the talent Canadian and  It will be fun to watch her rise back to the upper echelon of the women’s game. Wozniak is certainly not a name any player will want to see opposite their own in the draw, especially on Wozniak’s favourite surface during the clay court season.

Wozniak Shows Winning Attitude in Loss to Venus at Miami

Aleksandra Wozniak played Venus Williams tough in Miami

Aleksandra Wozniak played Venus Williams tough in Miami

Aleksandra Wozniak was a forehand away from scoring one of the biggest wins of her career in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. The 24-year-old Canadian held match point against seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, but couldn’t close the deal, falling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(5)in a two-hour, 53 minute match that had more ups and downs than a roller coaster.

Wozniak showed flashes of her Top 20 form from two years ago against the inspirational Williams who is playing her first tournament since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome at last year’s U.S. Open. After getting through her first two matches, Williams appeared sluggish and Wozniak took full advantage, playing deep, penetrating shots to keep her opponent on her heels.

Still, every time it looked like Wozniak was going to knock out the tournament sentimental favourite, either nerves or Williams’ champion’s mentality got her in the way. Serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, Wozniak survived two wild double faults to earn a match point which she wasted by putting a sitting forehand into the net. The Canadian didn’t go away though as she rebounded to force a third set tiebreak which, like the rest of the match, went back and forth until Williams converted her second match point with a service winner. Despite the pain of the circumstances, Wozniak showed a lot of class staying to sign autographs on court after shaking hands and chose to focus on the positives in her post-match comments.

“It would have been a big victory for me. It hurts and it is disappointing, but the important thing is that I’m healthy and progressing,” Wozniak said. “One thing is for sure, I am going to keep fighting.”

Wozniak is no stranger to coming up short in tight matches against top players. In 2010 she lost a pair of matches 6-4 in the third to Elena Dementieva at Roland-Garros and Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon. A few weeks ago in Dubai she lost 7-5 in the third to Agnieszka Radwanska. While all of the attention has been about the Williams comeback, Wozniak is also climbing the ranks again following a series of personal and physical setbacks that kept her off the court for significant chunks of time over the past two seasons. She won her maiden WTA title four years ago at Stanford, defeating Samantha Stosur, Serena Williams and Marion Bartoli en route. Wozniak reached a career-high ranking of no. 21 in June of 2009 and Williams was the first to acknowledge that a formidable player was across the net from her on Centre Court in Key Biscayne.

“It was tough out there. It was made even tougher because she played well, Williams said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her play as well as she did. She was close to the Top 20, so she has that tennis in her. I have to give her a lot of credit.”

With her third round performance in Miami, Wozniak will move close to Top 60 on the WTA rankings after a fruitful March that also saw her win the Nassau Challenger in the Bahamas. She is once again the top-ranked Canadian and is making a strong push towards her season goal of representing Canada at the Olympics in London. With her free-flowing all around game and genuine personality, Wozniak will come through in her fair share matches in 2012, and win over a lot of new fans in the process.

Raonic Joins the Ranks of the Andys in San Jose

Raonic_SJRepeat

Milos Raonic received a bottle of Canadian maple syrup for the second consecutive year from SAP Open tournament director Bill Rapp on Sunday after he successfully defended his San Jose title.

The 21-year-old native of Thornhill, Ontario defeated world no. 61 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6(3), 6-2 in the championship final to earn his third career title and become the first player since Andy Murray (2006-07) and Andy Roddick (2004-05) to win back-to-back titles in San Jose. Raonic also becomes the first player on the ATP World Tour to capture two titles in 2012 after winning in Chennai during the first week of the season. He is now 11-1 on the year.

Raonic, who did not drop a set en route to the title, once again showcased his dominance on serve, winning 41 of his 42 service games to remain undefeated at the SAP Open. In the final against Istomin, the Canadian lost a mere four points on serve in his 80 minute victory. Raonic also kept his unblemished tiebreak record in San Jose intact, improving to 8-0.

“I feel amazing. It’s definitely a different feeling from the first time last year. I think I’m more aware and more appreciative of the moment,” Raonic told the crowd in an on-court interview.

Raonic was able to defend his title at San Jose despite being unable to play his final singles match at the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first-round match-up against France the previous weekend. What was originally thought by doctors to be a 4 millimeter tear in Raonic’s left knee following an ultrasound in Vancouver, turned out to be nothing serious once the swelling faded. He was re-examined upon his arrival at the Stanford Medical Center on Monday and the MRI results thankfully allowed doctors to give the fastest rising star in tennis the green light to return to the court after just a few days rest.

All three of Raonic’s ATP titles have come on hard courts and at 250 level events. The next step for the hard serving Canuck, nicknamed the “Maple Leaf Missile”, will be to make deeper runs at bigger tournaments on multiple surfaces where the competition is tougher. Raonic will get the chance to do just that this week in Memphis, an ATP 500 event, where he reached the final last year before falling to Andy Roddick in a hotly contested final that featured one of the shots of 2011 by Roddick on match point.

Raonic is seeded fourth in Memphis this year and finds himself in the same section of the draw as second-seeded Roddick, fifth-seeded Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr. and sixth-seeded Julien Benneteau of France. He will play his first match on Wednesday night against talented Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

Fellow Canadian Rebecca Marino, the reigning Memphis women’s finalist, is back on Tour and will play her first match since the Australian Open against second-seeded Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in the opening round on Tuesday. In addition to Marino and Raonic reaching the singles finals in Memphis in 2011, Daniel Nestor also won the doubles title to complete an impressive Canadian trifecta.

Powerhouse French too much for Short-Handed Canadians

Photographer: Kyle Clapham

The anticipation had been building for months following the announcement that Vancouver would host its first Davis Cup tie in 20 years. It also just so happened to be the biggest non-Rogers Cup tennis event to be held on Canadian soil in the last decade.

In the end, the Canada-France first round World Group tie lived up to the hype and delivered on expectations despite Milos Raonic being forced to withdraw from the much-anticipated reverse singles match up with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga because of pain in his knee.

Raonic played and won his singles match on Friday, defeating Julien Benneteau in straight sets, putting forth a virtually flawless performance to give Canada it’s only point of the weekend in a 4-1 defeat. Level at 1-1 after Friday’s singles, Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau substituted the in-form Raonic for Vasek Pospisil to play with Daniel Nestor for the crucial doubles point. In the end, the French pair of Benneteau and Michael Llodra played subliminal doubles to secure the second point for France and Canada was dealt a major blow when it was discovered that Raonic had tweaked his knee during the first set which would ultimately keep him out of Sunday’s reverse singles.

Frank Dancevic replaced Raonic against Tsonga in the first match on Sunday and acquitted himself more than admirably, playing inspired tennis that ignited the boisterous crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre. Dancevic’s performance, perhaps his best since the former world no. 65 made a surprise run to the quarter-finals o f the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal in 2007, just wasn’t enough against Tsonga who was also at the top of his game, hitting winners from seemingly everywhere on the court. The World no. 6 posted an impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win to propel France into the Davis Cup quarter-finals where they will play the United States on home soil. Tsonga said he was disappointed to miss out on the chance to play Raonic in this setting.

“For us it was a good surprise,” said Tsonga. “Milos (Raonic) is a good player, talented, and I was a bit sad to play against another guy, because I think it (would have been) a good confrontation with Milos.”

For his part, Dancevic thrived in his return to the Canadian Davis Cup squad and enjoyed every minute of playing in front of vocal, supportive fans.

“I felt the energy out there and I felt like I had a lot of momentum on my side,” Dancevic said. “I felt like anything could happen … and it came down to just a few important shots by him, especially in the second set. He painted the lines on a few forehands, hit some unbelievable down-line and cross-court one-hand backhands.”

Gael Monfils, who did not play Friday’s singles match against Raonic as originally anticipated, and Vasek Pospisil concluded the tie with an entertaining match that wowed the crowd featured more than one highlight reel shot from the always flamboyant Monfils. The Frenchman defeated Pospisil, Canada’s Davis Cup hero in 2011, 6-4, 6-4.

A total of 15,233 spectators attended the tie over the three days and certainly made themselves heard throughout the weekend and showed why Vancouver is the fastest growing tennis city in Canada. The Canadian team left with many lessons learned as they look ahead to their World Group playoff tie in September, but also proved they belonged among the top 16 Davis Cup countries in the world.

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