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Marino takes inspirational step back from tennis

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

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.

Milos Raonic Becomes Canada’s Ambassador for Kids’ Tennis

Following in the footsteps of the USTA and their progressive tennis program endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama, Tennis Canada has launched a new campaign to promote the active, healthy living of children through the sport of tennis. World no. 26 Milos Raonic will be the ambassador for Kids’ Tennis, a scaled-down version of the sport that ensures earlier success for children by using modified racquets, balls and nets.

Kids’ Tennis is a way to attract young children to the game and allow them to improve their tennis skills quicker which makes for a more fun and successful transition to a regular court.

“Getting more kids playing the sport of tennis in Canada is extremely important to me,” said Raonic. “I hope that my recent success and results on the ATP World Tour will help to inspire more people to pick up a racquet. But they also need to know there are now easier ways for their children to learn the sport with this smaller equipment that is tailored to suit their abilities. That’s what I’m hoping these public service announcements will accomplish.”

The campaign will roll out in the form of two public service announcements with supporting print elements aimed at raising awareness and encouraging participation. Raonic made himself available for both the TV and print creative development which was shot over a full day at the Hollyburn Country Club in Vancouver early during the week of Davis Cup in February.

Developed by Toronto ad agency Bensimon Byrne, the two public service announcements take a humorous approach using role reversal where Raonic, the 6’5” ATP World Tour star, has difficultly playing Kids’ Tennis against a young girl. The spots began airing in Canada this past weekend during the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and will run continuously on several stations throughout the summer.. To date, the PSAs have been very well received, getting over 2,700 views on YouTube since last Thursday.  Watch the first PSA below. The second one will be posted this week.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PshU7Ii6Fqk

Powerhouse French too much for Short-Handed Canadians

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.

Vancouver Stoked to Host Davis Cup Elite

Two years removed from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the city of Vancouver will be all about tennis this week as many of the sport world’s eyes will be focused on the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, which will host Canada’s biggest Davis Cup tie in the last decade beginning Friday.

Canada will host a powerhouse team from France, which includes Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in their first World Group tie since 2004. This also marks the first time since 1992 that Vancouver will host a Davis Cup tie.

Led by their two young guns, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, who played the role of Davis Cup hero last year to give his country this opportunity, Canada will attempt to pull off a huge upset in their first home tie since 2009. For the occasion, Tennis Canada has selected a fast indoor hard court that should help produce a few more aces and winners from the heavy-hitting Canadian racquets.

Not only did the event sell out within an hour, but the organizing committee has pulled out all of the stops to give their squad every advantage as they go after this monumental victory. “Operation Red and White” is encouraging fans to wear their country’s colours regardless of where they will be watching the matches and reinforces that France won’t win, at least “Not On Our Court”.  In addition, the Cactus Club Café in Vancouver is the official Team Canada Headquarters to watch the tie for fans who don’t have a ticket.

The one and only meeting between Canada and France in Davis Cup came way back in 1966 on the clay courts of Roland-Garros with the home side coming away with a dominant 5-0 win. The home team this time around is hoping for a much different result and Raonic and Pospisil will have to play the matches of their lives to make it happen. Not only will France be tough in singles, but they have also brought Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra, two of their doubles specialists to counter Canadian legend Daniel Nestor, who usually guarantees a point when he suits up for the crucial doubles rubber.

“It’s a short time frame compared to the other years, usually we have play in March so we have an extra month to get the match count high enough to feel really good about anybody’s game,” said Team Canada captain Martin Laurendeau. “But, the fact that it’s following a Grand Slam and it’s early in the season has forced the guys to be sharp early in the year and we are playing some good tennis right now.”

The task at hand may be a very difficult one, but there is a reason they play the game and the Canadian underdogs plan on showing their home fans why.

Pittsburgh Penguins Crosby Surprises Federer With Birthday Cake

Sidney Crosby greets Roger Federer with a cake on his 29th birthday Sunday.

Roger Federer and Sidney Crosby have missed out on their chance to play tennis together but can still share a birthday cake.The two sports stars met for the first time at the Rogers Cup on Sunday. They were set to play together on a practice court at the Rexall Centre, but rain scuttled their plans.

A birthday cake was brought out for the occasion as Federer turned 29 on Sunday, a day after Crosby turned 23.

Crosby says the two talked about watching each other play. The Pittsburgh Penguins star forward scored the overtime winner against the United States to give Canada the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Federer is a two-time winner at the Rogers Cup. The 16-time Grand Slam champion is currently ranked No. 3 in the world.