The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion. Here are some thoughts.
That was…historic: 77 years, and counting no longer. It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles. With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year. He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.
But also anticlimactic: Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold. Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time. He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers. Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed. Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.
Symptoms of a real rivalry: Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did. Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time. But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns. After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon. One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.
Return to normalcy: Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all. Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve. Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.
The grass is greener: Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades. He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface. With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass. Could it become his favorite surface?
No place like Down Under: Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open. His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors. In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.
Four in a row: Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe. That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13. His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.
Del Potro lurking (again): At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set. It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray. Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray. On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.
No competition, no problem: Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked. Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.
Practice makes perfect: The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year. Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set. But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year. He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.
Hangover ahead: After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion. One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon. On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.
More drama elsewhere: France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title. The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6. The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.
Balanced among four continents, the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals illustrate the diversity of excellence in this sport. From Vancouver, Canada to Astana, Kazakhstan, each of the ties contains multiple storylines that we discuss in a preview.
Canada vs. Italy: Choice of surface often plays a crucial role in handing the home team a Davis Cup advantage, and such may prove the case again when a nation of fast-court players hosts a nation of clay specialists. While Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini excel on the prevailing surface of Europe, the edge swings to the massive serves of Milos Raonic and the similarly aggressive style of Vasek Pospisil on the indoor hard court that Canada has laid in Vancouver. Thumping Davis Cup superpower Spain in this arena to start 2013 World Group play, Raonic and his compatriots should have gained a valuable boost of confidence, albeit a little mitigated by the Canadian No. 1’s recent illness. If Pospisil’s youth undoes him against the more experienced Italians, doubles specialist Daniel Nestor might suffice to supplement Raonic’s effort in propelling Canada through. He has accumulated more renown in that area than any of the Italians, although Pospisil may be the weakest link of the four on the court. The Canadians certainly will hope to win in three or four rubbers, for nobody wants to gamble on what Italian No. 2 Fognini can produce when inspiration strikes him.
USA vs. Serbia: With world No. 1 Novak Djokovic towering ominously above this tie, Team USA must rest its hopes on winning the three rubbers that he does not play. Or must they? Both of the American singles players, Sam Querrey and John Isner, defeated Djokovic on hard courts last season. Querrey’s victory came on fast indoor courts in Paris, perhaps similar to those in Boise, while Isner’s triumph came on the marquee stage of Indian Wells, illustrating his tendency to excel on home soil. Appearing to nurse an abdominal strain in Miami, Djokovic produced one of his least impressive performances on the spring hard courts in years and can fluster under the pressure of overpowering serves. Much less impressive all season are the two American giants, however, so sustaining a Djokovic-stifling level of play in a best-of-five format seems beyond their grasp. Instead, they will hope to win the doubles behind Bob and Mike Bryan and pounce on Serbian #2 Viktor Troicki. Despite a first-round setback against Brazil, the Bryans almost always deliver for Team USA. But Troicki holds a 5-2 edge over Querrey and Isner, so they will need all of the assistance that the home crowd can give them to make it 5-4.
Argentina vs. France: Arguably the best Davis Cup team on paper, France enjoys the rare balance of star power and depth not only two top-15 singles players but an elite doubles squad in Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Still, all of the Frenchmen will confront the challenge of playing on their worst surface against a team playing on its best. Hoping that home-court advantage will narrow the talent gap, Argentina welcomes them to the Parque Roca with clay specialists Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq. The former man has watched his ranking skid this year as he has not won a match outside Davis Cup, but he did sweep his two first-round rubbers against Germany. Playing above his usual level in that tie, Berlocq defeated French No. 2 Simon twice in three clay meetings last year, which could offer the Argentines an edge if the tie reaches a fifth rubber. To do so, and circumvent French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they likely would have to win the doubles match with their seasoned pair of Horacio Zeballos and David Nalbandian. Those two have played many a Davis Cup thriller before and usually rise to the occasion, but Benneteau and Llodra usually do too, so the doubles could be the highlight of the weekend.
Kazakhstan vs. Czech Republic: If this regularly overachieving group of Kazakhs stunned a Czech team in their native Ostrava two years ago, they must feel sanguine about their chances against the Czechs in Kazakhstan. More important than the location of the tie, moreover, is the absence of Czech #1 Tomas Berdych, which leaves a massive void in the visitors’ singles lineup. Stepping into the gap, Lukas Rosol hopes to recapture the magic that he found on a single day at Wimbledon but that has eluded him since then. Neither Rosol nor the other Czech singles entrant, Jan Hajek, boasts much experience of success in Davis Cup. In contrast, this same Kazakh team has delivered surprise after surprise against favored opponents in this competition. Lurking in the doubles and perhaps in the Sunday reverse singles, Radek Stepanek must fill the leadership role for the defending champions, but the 34-year-old’s energy is limited and skills fading. Without a single man in the top 150, the home team should reach the World Group semifinals for the first time. Whether this reflects poorly or well on Davis Cup is open to debate.
Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend. We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.
Canada vs. Spain: Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America. Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor. Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches. Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year. If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic. Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.
Italy vs. Croatia: This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails. On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians. But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory. The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat. Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though. At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.
Belgium vs. Serbia: One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist. First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career. Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters. That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments. Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada. With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.
USA vs. Brazil: Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend. For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions. While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves. In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans. All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.
France vs. Israel: Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level. Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles. The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months. In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra. Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before. Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.
Argentina vs. Germany: Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge. While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy. Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq. The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well. Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian. Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber. There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.
Pick: Er, Argentina?
Kazakhstan vs. Austria: In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major. The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side. His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer. The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday. Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.
Switzerland vs. Czech Republic: While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka. After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately. Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych. The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him. In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych. The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.
Pick: Czech Republic
By Melissa Boyd
TORONTO (November 16, 2012) — Two days after launching his foundation to support disadvantaged children, Milos Raonic hosted his first fundraising event, the Raonic Race for Kids, at the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club with the help of a few Toronto celebrities and tennis stars.
A total of ten teams raised money to participate in the inaugural race and each drafted an honorary celebrity captain to join their squad, choosing from the likes of Raonic, junior Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard, Daniel Nestor, former NHL player Brad Marsh, and Canadian Football League legend Damon Allen. “Romano’s Racers” raised the most money through their fundraising efforts and were rewarded by having Raonic as their captain.
Teams competed in eleven three-minute challenges that tested both their physical and intellectual abilities including mini-putt, ping-pong, and making a puzzle. Creative costumes, a theme song, and an original name characterized each team.
The highlight of the evening came when Andy Roddick and Serena Williams made a surprise appearance to present prizes and a trophy to the highest scoring team. The winning team was “The Aces” captained by Toronto television personality Carson Arthur. The American super duo also joined Raonic for a Q and A session which covered topics like the trio’s big serves, trash-talking, and what Roddick has been up to since retiring from the game at the U.S. Open this year.
The first edition of the Raonic Race for Kids raised just over $160,000 which will be put towards the Milos Raonic Foundation and Tennis Canada’s “Let’s Make Tennis Matter for Kids” campaign. The Raonic foundation will create and support initiatives to reduce economic, physical, and other barriers that may prevent disadvantaged children from becoming healthy, productive members of society.
“Tennis has had a profound impact on my life in so many positive ways,” Raonic said. “Opportunities that were available to me as I grew up are not always as accessible to other children and youth and in many cases this is often due to circumstances that are completely beyond their control.”
Raonic, Roddick, Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska will take part in the Sport Chek Face-off tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com
November 7, 2012 — You’ve heard this before, “Why don’t they show more doubles?”
But ask any producer and you’ll hear the expected rap, “It doesn’t sell ad space.”
The response is enough to shove dreams of American realism – the rags to riches story – in a deep hole. Their reasoning diverts to money, not entertainment, not consumer desires, not the absolutely awesome nature of the game of doubles.
Have they ever really watched it? Followed it? Way more interesting than singles.
First, four players are on court. That mathematically equals twice the entertainment and ticket value, twice the tennis, and twice what you would expect as added coverage. That means more jobs! Think about that you international politicians. You want an uptick in popularity, promise to televise doubles. It’s a slick ticket made in re-election heaven.
The political benefits aside, doubles fanatics, which we all know are more numerous than singles fanatics, can get their fill this week by tuning in to The Barclay’s World Tour Finals from London. Not only are the top eight teams from the year on hand to delight the packed O2 Arena, they are first up each session. You could conclude they are the premier matches of the week.
Here are more reasons doubles are twice the fun.
Two people play to win a point, game, set and match. Two means a relationship; they are partners. This logically suggests the introduction of complicated human interactions, which is lost in singles competition. Unless, of course, you construe the rantings of a player toward a support box as interaction.
Teams converse between points. Do knuckle bumps, high fives, signal tactics to their partner before a toss, and if the Bryan brothers are battling … chest bumps. Can’t see that in any other sport. Soccer players may leap into each others arms, but so can the brothers. They won’t skid across a tennis court on their knees though, for obvious and injurious reasons. Well, maybe on grass.
Let’s face it, doubles is way more interesting to watch. Teams serve and volley, change sides, yell ‘out’ so their partners don’t do something stupid like give away a point, and find every lucky angle and spot on a court.
They hit deep ground strokes, short under-spins, half-volleys, and magnificent overhead smashes that crack like a whip.
With four players at the net, the rata-tat-tat of volley exchanges builds audience energy to a fevered pitch. It’s a wonder the men don’t hear it.
It’s wild. It’s exciting.
Doubles is a complicated game, too, because of its nature. In singles every ball is for you. Not so in doubles. There is order to returns and movement, although scrambling to cover an open spot may look like mayhem.
Bob and Mike Bryan are the best at movement. As twins, they intuitively know what the other will do. Their expectations are in sync, which puts them at a mighty high level of performance in sports. One person can enter the zone, yes, but two acting as a team … not so easy. They are the number one seeds this week.
Throughout their career they have clinched 82 ATP titles — the most of any doubles team. They will end 2013 at number one for the eighth time, and the fourth consecutive. At the U. S. Open they won their 12th slam, an Open-era record. To top off their season, they won a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi are the defending champions. So far they are 1-1 in round robin play. They seem to be in the ‘harder’ group, along with Wimbledon doubles champions, Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielson. They are 2-0 and the most unlikely team on hand.
Marray is the first native-born Briton to play in this tournament; and Nielsen teamed with Marray seconds before the deadline to enter Wimbledon this summer. Nielsen’s record has been about singles and after this week he will return to that discipline, leaving Marray to search for a partner. If they continue to mesmerize win, he won’t be left out in the cold for long. But, then again, partners are not just a matter of availability.
Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek were the last team to qualify. It’s Stepanek’s inaugural World Tour Championship.
With all the fun available for fans, the choice of no-ad scoring has been hard to understand. And, any promotion that dares to intimate this is a ‘fifth grand slam’ should have their funding cut. No major tournament would allow no-add scoring.
The lovely dynamics of doubles is negated in this format. At 40-all, the serving team picks the side from where they’d like to serve. This point ends the game. Ordinarily, these top-flight teams groove to a different rhythm. Teetering between ad-in and ad-out is familiar. They are trained for this. It gives them chances to come back, use their strengths – both mental and tactical. The better team can hold with more consistency, which is the pinnacle of skill in tennis.
The no-ad scoring in London, though, throws randomness at the competition. It doesn’t serve the tournament, players, or 15,000 fans that pack the house every session.
As a result the outcomes of the matches have an odd undercurrent. If you look at the match stats, the losing teams have won more points than the winning teams. Not by much, but it’s lopsided. This means they’ve won more service and return points.
In their loss to Mirnyi and Nestor on Monday, Robert Lindstedt and Horacio Tecau won 83% of their second service points, an incredibly high percentage. Their opponents won 43%. Lindstedt/Tecau converted all their break point changes, too. Mirnyi/Nestor went 0 for 2.
Five of the six matches have been decided by 10-point champions tiebreaks. First to ten by two. This is the only remnants of normalcy in London. They are used throughout the season. And every world tour player knows that tiebreaks should be avoided. Without regular scoring, though, the outcomes this week will not reflect the depth that these men can achieve in the sets that precede the tiebreaks. The scoring robbed them of a type of play that demonstrates their excellence. They literally cannot play their games, which is a shame for the deserved prestige assigned them.
Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She wrote about John Isner’s ground-breaking wildcard run at the formerly named Legg Mason Tennis Classic in 2007 for Tennis.com. She has written tennis commentary for the late, great Tennis Week print publication and online version. Hundreds of articles from Jane have been seen on TennisServer.com, too. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U. S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.
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.”
Milos Raonic stands fervent among a slew of young ATP players hoping to break into the top 10 of the world rankings this year. At 21-years-old, this Canadian has stood as a gauge of what the next generation of tennis players has to offer. Today at the Sony Ericsson Open, I had the opportunity to catch up with Milos and ask him some fan-friendly questions, including what he would be if he weren’t a tennis player and what three tennis players would he want to party with. Always honest and friendly, his answers are sure to leave you laughing!
What is the greatest moment in your career?
Winning San Jose and then defending it. First title, and then being able to back it up is amazing.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?
I would be trying to play basketball. I love the sport. But I think really I would be finishing University.
If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?
Pete Sampras, he was my idol. I got to play him actually last year. But any other player I would like to play? (Pause) McEnroe or Borg because it’s a big change since they played and I think it would be amazing to step up against them.
If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?
Feliciano Lopez. (Smiles) He’ll bring a lot of good-looking girls.
Daniel Nestor, he’s funny and we like to tease him a bit. He’s not the biggest partier, but he’s fun to have around.
And the third player that I would pick to party with? (Long pause, converses and jokes with ATP rep). Oh, Marat Safin. He’ll bring a lot more good-looking girls too. (Laughs)
What is one thing that scares you?
(Long pause) Ok, let’s say, the biggest thing that scares me is probably being stranded in open water.
It would seem that the emergence of Milos Raonic as a bona fide rising star on the ATP World Tour has inspired success from his fellow Canadian tennis compatriots at all levels of the game and this was put on full display last week.
While Raonic was trying to win his second consecutive title in Memphis, Canadians were collecting hardware all over the world. After losing the 2011 final to Andy Roddick, Raonic once again the runner-up in Memphis, falling to Jurgen Melzer in the championship match on Sunday, one week after repeating in San Jose. This run has propelled him to a career-high ranking of no. 24.
Prior to Raonic stepping on court for the singles final, Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi successfully defended their Memphis doubles title thanks to a 4-6, 7-5, 10-7 win over Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo. The victory is the pair’s second title of 2012 and the fourth trophy triumph for Nestor in Memphis. The Canadian tennis legend also captures doubles title no. 77 in his illustrious career.
Meanwhile, on the ITF Pro Circuit, Steven Diez and Peter Polansky both won their first Futures titles of the year. Diez won the $10,000 Murcia Futures event in Spain, defeating Pedro Sousa of Portugal 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final. For his part, Polansky was crowned champion of the $15,000 Brownsville Futures in Texas thanks to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Great Britain’s Daniel Cox on the title match. Polansky lost 18 games in five matches.
Sixteen-year-old Erin Routliffe, whose style of play is drawing comparisons to her compatriot Rebecca Marino, left Canada at the beginning of the month for a four-week South American clay court swing ranked no. 450 on the ITF junior rankings. She returns Monday ranked inside the Top 100 following a successful four tournament run. Routliffe played four Grade 2 events, reaching the semifinals in Peru, the quarter-finals in Bolivia, the final in Chile and concluding the run with another championship match appearance on Saturday at the Argentina Cup. This means there are now four Canadian girls ranked inside the Top 100 on the ITF world junior rankings.
Not to be outdone, Montrealer Félix Auger-Aliassime became the first Canadian boy to capture the Open Super 12 in Auray, France, one of the most prestigious U12 events on the tennis calendar.
While Raonic is getting all of the attention, the impact of his new status within the sport is being felt everywhere in the tennis world and especially in Canada. Just ask any player who represents the Maple Leaf when they walk on the court.
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.
Tennis Canada handed out its annual Excellence Awards this week following a breakthrough season for Canadian tennis in 2011.
Milos Raonic won three awards including Male Player of the Year, Male Singles Player of the Year and Most Improved Male Player. The 20-year-old enjoyed the greatest year on record for a Canadian male singles player. Raonic won his first ATP title in San Jose and improved his ranking more than 100 spots, reaching a career-high mark of no. 25 on May 2.
“My goal is to continue to grow and get better and hopefully be a role model to those back home following me,” Raonic said. I’m hoping that some of my success will inspire young kids in Canada to pick up a racquet and get involved in the sport.”
Doubles legend Daniel Nestor was named Doubles Player of the Year for an eleventh consecutive year. There is little that the 39-year-old has not accomplished on a tennis court and he continued to build his Hall of Fame credentials in 2011. With his new partner Max Mirnyi, Nestor captured his seventh Grand Slam at the French Open, winning his 800th match en route, and also lifted a second consecutive and fourth overall Barclays ATP World Tour Finals championship – his 75th career title.
Rebecca Marino also notched three awards in recognition of her standout season. The 20-year-old was named Female Player of the Year for the second consecutive year after a 2011 that included reaching her maiden WTA final in Memphis, advancing to the third round at the French Open and earning her first Top 15 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. After finishing the 2010 season ranked No. 101, Marino improved by 63 spots to attain her career-high of No. 38, before ending the year at No. 64. Like Raonic, she also took home the awards for Singles Player of the Year and Most Improved Player on the women’s side.
“It was a really big year for me with a lot of firsts and a huge learning curve,” commented Marino. “I’m currently working really hard on my off-season training and am really looking forward to starting the 2012 season and hopefully building on my success from this past year.”
The Tennis Canada Excellence Awards are selected by a committee comprised of high-ranking Tennis Canada personnel and the country’s top national coaches. The remaining awards for junior, wheelchair and senior players will be announced in the New Year.