A shocker of a day at Queen’s Club

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It had been nearly a year since the last shocker like this, when the top three seeds at an ATP Tour event all lost their opening matches.

But in that case, on clay at a small tournament in Kitzbuhel two weeks after last year’s Wimbledon, we weren’t talking about three of the top six players in the world – including last year’s Wimbledon champion and runner-up.

On Tuesday at Queen’s Club, the seeds went three, two, one – out. It’s the first time in the Open era that has ever happened there.

No. 3 seed Milos Raonic was the first to take the court, and the first to bow out. After reaching the final a year ago, the 26-year-old Canadian lost 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8) to 21-year-old Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis. He had eight break points in the first set, and converted none. He led the second-set tiebreak 6-3, and lost it 10-8.

Following them onto the court was No. 2 Stan Wawrinka, not a champion grass-court player but still the No. 3 player in the world. He lost to the unseeded 35-year-old Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (4), 7-5.

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Kokkinakis had been out nearly two years with an assortment of injuries. He couldn’t have expected such a big win so early on in the process.

Both had 16 aces. Both had 88 per cent success rates with their first serves. But the Spaniard Lopez – unusually, by the standards of his countrymen, an aggressive customer on the grass – handled Wawrinka’s second serve far better than the Swiss did his. And by the finest of margins, he got through.

Murray shocker

Then came No. 1.

For all the British hand-wringing over the last few months about Andy Murray’s form – all of it, months ahead, pre-doom and gloom for The Championships – he played well in Paris. Murray reached the semifinals and it took former French Open champion Wawrinka more than 4 1/2 hours to beat him.

The defending champion came to Queen’s Club with some momentum. But less than 24 hours after announcing he would donate his prize money from the tournament to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – he went out.

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Murray hadn’t lost at Queen’s since 2014, and won it three of the last four years.

He did not, as expected, play fellow Brit Aljaz Bedene, whom he defeated 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the same tournament a year ago.

Bedene withdrew with a wrist injury Tuesday morning. The lucky loser, Aussie Jordan Thompson, was ranked more than 30 spots below Bedene. But Murray had never faced him. And Thompson came in with a little grass momentum after reaching the final of a Challenger the previous week.

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Nick Kyrgios, forced to retire in his first-round match, stuck around to cheer on his Aussie mates on a very good day for them.

But still … Murray went out 7-6 (4), 6-2 and dealt his Wimbledon title defense preparation a bit of a blow. He hadn’t lost at Queen’s Club since 2014. Thompson played great tennis. But it all went downhill when Murray was up a mini-break in the first set tiebreak.

First, a double fault. Then, one of the worst drop-shot attempts he’ll make all year. Suddenly, he lost both points on his serve. The rest was not pretty to watch.

“This tournament has given me great preparation in the past. When I have done well here, Wimbledon has tended to go pretty well, too,” Murray told the media in London. “But, if I play like that, I certainly won’t win Wimbledon. I can play better than that.”

Worst British effort in 34 years

Murray has won at Queen’s Club five times, including three of the last four years.

He was the headmaster of a seriously futile effort by the British contingent this year. All five of them – Murray along with Kyle Edmund, wild cards James Ward and Cameron Norrie and lucky loser Liam Broady – lost first round.

According to the ATP, it was the first time the Brits went winless at Queen’s Club since 1983.

The carnage in Kitzbuhel a year ago was a blip compared to this.

Top seed Dominic Thiem, at No. 9 ranked just one spot higher than he is now but not nearly the player he has become this year, had played every week but three since the Australian Open. He fulfilled a commitment to his home-country event, but lost to his far more experienced countryman Jürgen Melzer in a tough combination of circumstances.

The No. 2 seed was Philipp Kohlschreiber. The No. 3 was Marcel Granollers.

This was in a totally different league. 

Terrible Tuesday takes the zip right out of a superb event, which added 2,000 seats to its stadium court this year and boasted a terrific field.

Now? The top half is wide open for No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who does have an in-form Gilles Muller playing the best tennis of his long career ahead of him in the second round.

The bottom half? A Grigor Dimitrov vs. Lopez semi-final would be an attractive grass-court matchup. But it lacks the glamour that the tournament deserves.

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

Coaching shuffle just in time for the grass

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American Coco Vandeweghe lost in the first round of singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at the French Open.

The obvious solution: fire the coach.

Craig Kardon is done with Vandeweghe, as reported by Jon Wertheim. But it took no time at all before he was picked up by another American, Donald Young, for the grass-court season.

Young and Taylor Townsend are coach by Young’s parents, Donald Sr. and Ilona. But it’s a good sign that they’re looking to add extra expertise.

ALSO READ: A lot of new coaching alliances in 2017

Vandeweghe’s next move is an intriguing one: she has hired 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, an arrangement we’re told is scheduled to last at least through the US Open.

Cash looks set up to be the John McEnroe of this year’s Wimbledon: a former champion, a television pundit, someone the British tennis media will be all over and – of course – will get outsized credit if Vandeweghe does anything of note at the Championships.

We’re told that Cash had been in negotiations with Milos Raonic for the grass-court swing. But that didn’t pan out. Instead, we’re told Raonic has added Mark Knowles. That hasn’t yet been confirmed by Raonic, though.

Knowles, 45, reached the top 100 in singles but is best known for his doubles exploits. He won 55 career titles; interestingly, he never won Wimbledon although he did win the other three majors. He also won the Queen’s Club title twice with Canadian Daniel Nestor.

Knowles, seen here at Wimbledon in 2012 when he was working with Mardy Fish, may be working with Milos Raonic this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Raonic parted ways with Richard Krajicek a few weeks ago.

Wawrinka also makes an add

In another grass-court move, French Open finalist Stan Wawrinka has added the experienced Paul Annacone for the grass-court season.

Annacone has worked with a couple of Wimbledon multi-champions in Pete Sampras and Roger Federer (seen here with Annacone in Montreal in 2011) (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Annacone, who has coached both Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, was a relentless serve-volleyer-chip-charger during a career that saw him get to No. 12 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. He did win the Australian Open doubles back in 1985, when it was on grass.

A year ago, Wawrinka added Krajicek during the grass season, for similar reasons. It is the only Slam the Swiss has yet to win.

He was a quarter-finalist in 2014 and 2015, but lost in the second round to Juan Martin del Potro last year in a tough draw for both.

Raonic parts ways with coach Krajicek (updated)

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ROLAND GARROS – In the wake of a good – but not great – French Open, world No. 6 Milos Raonic is making yet another coaching change.

Raonic, whose main coach for the last several years has been Riccardo Piatti, announced on Twitter Thursday night that he has parted ways with his second coach, 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek.

Tennis.Life has learned the Canadian has had discussions/negotiations with at least one other candidate, 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash. But Krajicek’s successor reportedly will be longtime doubles star and current Tennis Channel analyst Mark Knowles.

(Update: Raonic finally officially announced this on June 13 – so faithful Tennis.Life readers had the scoop way ahead of time!

It seems all of this is all in the family. Raonic is managed at CAA by Amit Naor. Who also manages Coco Vandeweghe, who ended up with Cash as a new coach. Naor also manages the broadcast side of Knowles’ career. Tennis is all one big circle of life.)

Krajicek and Raonic began working together at the Australian Open this year. But because of a lingering hamstring injury, Raonic played very little tennis from the Australian Open through to the beginning of May in Istanbul.

Raonic has put out a lot of Tweets of this type in recent years: mutual decision … remain good friends … parted ways … wish him luck.

Coaching turnover

Raonic has made a lot of coaching moves over the last few years – especially by the standards of top-10 players.

The Canadian joined forces with Ivan Ljubicic just before Wimbledon in 2013. A few months later Ljubicic’s own longtime coach Piatti (who had been coaching Frenchman Richard Gasquet) joined the team.

It seemed like quite a seamless operation. Ljubicic was the quarterback overseeing the entire operation. Everything ran through him; he ensured the coaching message was consistent and that the team ran like a well-oiled machine.

But by the end of 2015, Ljubicic was gone.

Krajicek

A short time later, Ljubicic joined Team Federer.

By the Australian Open a month later, the new “super coach” was in place as former No. 1 Carlos Moyá signed on.

Raonic reached the semi-finals in Oz and, but for an adductor injury, might well have made the final – or even won it. He was playing that well. Raonic had defeated Roger Federer in Brisbane a few weeks prior and his aggressive, net-rushing game was paying dividends. He was in a commanding position over Andy Murray when the injury made it too difficult to run. 

The McEnroe era

A few months later, word leaked out that Raonic would begin working with John McEnroe. The association was to be announced once Raonic was out of the French Open, in time for the grass-court season. But McEnroe, who was in Paris, spilled the beans.

So … when Wimbledon rolled around, Raonic technically had three coaches on his payroll: Piatti (who was not there), McEnroe and Moyá.

The two former No. 1s got in good workouts hitting against each other, much to Raonic’s amusement. And McEnroe got plenty of publicity (and credit) in London as Raonic reached the singles final.

McEnroe and Raonic remain friendly. McEnroe is a New Yorker and Raonic a part-time New Yorker; they have many friends in common.

Krajicek
Raonic hit the sack with the “self-appointed commissioner of tennis” in Paris. But there will be no renewed association with John McEnroe during this year’s grass-court season. (Eurosport)

But any future collaborative efforts between the two … didn’t happen. There was criticism during Wimbledon of McEnroe’s perceived conflicts of interest as he was both commentating for television and coaching Raonic.

And in the end, the American decided to stay with his bigger source of revenue – although, from what we understand, his weekly rate for working with Raonic was sky-high.

Raonic had a tough US Open, losing in the second round to Ryan Harrison and suffering cramping that prevented him from taking part in the Davis Cup two weeks later.

Successful Moyá era ends

By the end of 2016, Moyá also was on the road out of Milosville. This after a season when Raonic reached his first Grand Slam final, made the ATP Tour Finals and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the world.

Krajicek

Quickly, Moyá was announced as a new coach for longtime friend and fellow Mallorcan Rafael Nadal. So at least when Raonic’s super-coaches leave, they leave to go work with legends.

A few weeks later Krajicek (whom Raonic had approached to work with him during the grass-court season before McEnroe accepted the job) was on board.

Krajicek

The plan was that the Dutchman would do many more weeks on the road than Moyá had. But Raonic’s early-season injuries put a crimp in those plans. 

Krajicek was not scheduled to be in Paris for the French Open, with Piatti on hand. But he had planned to spend at least a few days at the event before meeting up with Raonic at Wimbledon.

Asked about that after his loss to Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round in Paris, Raonic was vague about Krajicek. Turns out that was a clue.

Keeping the body healthy

In April, right after Miami, Raonic parted ways with longtime strength and conditioning coach Dalibor Sirola. It was Sirola who announced it.

Claudio Zimaglia, Raonic’s long-time physiotherapist, is still on board. But there’s a rotating cast of characters in that role, including this blue-jeaned fellow in Paris.

Krajicek

“Obviously the physios have always rotated due to availability, so I’ve always had three guys that I’ve worked with at different times,” Raonic said before the French Open.

On Sirola, he said this: “Just I think he felt he was off the road too much, and we weren’t making progress in terms of trying to stay healthy.”

Krajicek
Krajicek and Zimaglia in Australia. Zimaglia will return for Wimbledon; Krajicek won’t. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Raonic has been working with noted physical therapist Charlie Weingroff, who is based in New York and isn’t a tennis specialist. On the plus side, the Canadian has gone through six weeks, with a lot of tournament play, and stayed healthy. 

He also appears to have reunited with longtime girlfriend, model Danielle Knudson, after some time apart. She first reappeared in Miami (the paparazzi were dutifully alerted to her presence in fetching beachwear), and was both in Lyon and Paris with Raonic.

The Canadian also seems to have gained back a bit of healthy weight, after a period where he was attempting to get as lean as he could, on a fairly drastic diet, to try to get quicker.

This amount of change within a team is fairly rare for a top player. At 26, Raonic clearly is still searching for the magic formula that will allow him to take that next step.

Carreño-Busta into first Slam quarterfinal

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ROLAND GARROS – The next wave of tennis’s Spanish armada is really just one solitary tugboat slowly plugging away at the ATP Tour rankings.

And that lone tugboat fancies himself a hard-court player. In terms of Spanish tennis history, that’s borderline heresy.

But Pablo Carreño-Busta is into his first career Grand Slam quarter-final. And it’s on the red clay.

The 25-year-old squeaked out a marathon 4-6,7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-4, 8-6 victory over No. 5 seed Milos Raonic Sunday afternoon. It was gruelling. And at times early on, Raonic really should have had it. But after four hours and 17 minutes – and six match points that went awry – Carreño-Busta finally pulled it out.

Related story: The Spanish Armada is sailing into the sunset

Here’s what Carreño-Busta’s win looked like:

“Is difficult to explain (to) you my emotions at the end of the match. It was the best victory of my career. Maybe in one of the best moments and one of the best places,” Carreño-Busta said. “This (is the) match that you dream when you are young, – playing Roland Garros, five sets, four hours and a half. It was really tough, really tough. But I just try to do my best.

“I enjoyed. I suffer, but I enjoyed. And of course if you win, you enjoy more,” he added.

Raonic’s road routine

Raonic had enjoyed an uneventful run to the fourth round. Belgium’s Steve Darcis was a good matchup for him to kick it off– a bad matchup for Darcis. In the second round, Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil just wasn’t able to touch his serve; Raonic had 25 aces. An early warning sign, though; the Canadian had 20 break-point chances, but converted only five.

The third round was over quickly; opponent Guillermo Garcia-Lopez retired after a set plus one game, with a leg injury.

Carreño-Busta
Raonic got pretty agitated with himself when he was down in the second set. He got it to a tiebreak, but failed to convert that. From then, Carreño-Busta was the better player. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In Carreño Busta, Raonic faced an opponent against whom he was 3-0, an opponent he hadn’t lost a set to. All their meetings were in the second half of last season on faster courts, including in the first round at Wimbledon last year.

But the Spaniard is on an upward trajectory. And when Raonic failed to put away the second set once he came from behind and wrestled it into a tiebreak, it was on.

“I just wasn’t very efficient, especially through the first three sets. I had a lot of times where I’m controlling the point. And short forehands that I wasn’t very efficient with and just let him stick around in those moments. And then he started to believe a lot,” Raonic said. “He was the better player there towards the end. I hung on as much as I could, but definitely lacked some efficiency … definitely from the aggressive side of my game.”

Crazy numbers

The overall statistics are ludicrous. Raonic served at a 70 per cent first-serve clip, and had 25 aces. He had 92 winners (and 84 unforced errors). He came up to the net 61 times. There were 35 break-point chances in the match; both players came back from love-30 and love-40 on several occasions.

But the most glaring stat was this one: Raonic won just 40 per cent of his second-serve points. For one of the biggest servers in the world, one whose kicker is hugely effective on the red clay, it just wasn’t enough.

The Canadian has not served particularly well during the clay-court season. And on this day, he paid the price.

“I just haven’t been hitting the spots on the deuce side. I haven’t been pulling the guy wide enough. So when I’ve been hitting that T-spot (down the middle), the serve, it’s not as effective. The percentages are there but the effectiveness isn’t,” Raonic said. “And I think, for example, today I would have done myself a lot of favors through a lot of the returns that were just floating in the middle of the court, if I punished them significantly more.”

Still, Raonic withstood a barrage of shots directed at his weaker side, the backhand, and he handled it extremely well. But his opponent just got better and better.

Next match the biggest test

Carreño-Busta shed some tears after this win – it seems to be a theme this week, on both sides of the emotional edger. Partly it was because he wanted to share the victory with his family. But they had to leave during the third set to catch their flight back to Spain. 

The will miss a huge moment Tuesday, as Carreño-Busta’s quarter-final opponent will be … Rafael Nadal.

Carreño-Busta
The countrymen teamed up for doubles at Indian Wells in 2015. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“If I think that I don’t have chances, I will not play. So for sure I think I have chances. Is really difficult, because Rafa is maybe the best player in this surface of the history, and he’s playing really good, but I will try. I’m playing good. I’m with a lot of confidence,” he said. “He’s a really good friend. So it will be a really special match for me. I just try to … I will try to enjoy this match and learn a lot. I will play against the best. And then we’ll see.

“Maybe I play and I lose easy or maybe I play and I win easy. You never know.”

Weekend Preview – May 20-21, 2017

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Friday sure was a Next-Gen kind of day in Rome, wasn’t it?

While there is inherent danger in putting forth any hot takes based on a single match, Dominic Thiem’s victory over Rafael Nadal in the Italian Open quarter-finals was definitely an “I have arrived” moment.

It was the third time in three tournaments that Thiem and Nadal have met. The first two came in finals. In the first one in Barcelona, the 23-year-old was out of gas and a little outclassed. In Madrid, he gave the Mallorcan a lot to handle, even in defeat. Friday in the Rome quarter-finals, he treed.

“It’s always such a tough thing to beat Rafa, in general and on clay probably even tougher. I knew I had to change something from Madrid and Barcelona. And my game plan went almost perfect today,” Thiem said. “I think he is always getting stronger as it goes deeper in the tournaments, but it doesn’t matter where, doesn’t matter which round. I’m really happy that I did it, and also to play that kind of a match.”

Nadal had a look afterwards that basically said, “Right, too good, kid. See you in Paris in best-of-five”. 

Not the worst outcome

In context, this was a tournament Nadal really didn’t need to play, after he won 15 straight matches to take Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, losing only two sets in the process. But he played.

He got more matches in, and stockpiled more ranking points. But Nadal also now gets the weekend off. And he doesn’t have to expend the mental and physical energy to try to win a fourth title this spring.

“It’s normal that one day you don’t feel perfect. If you are unlucky on that day, the opponent plays unbelievable. So tomorrow, I will be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf or doing another thing. That’s it,” Nadal told the media in Rome. “It’s obvious that I did not play my best match. I have been playing a lot. Madrid and Rome, back-to-back, after playing Barcelona and Monte-Carlo back-to-back, so it’s not easy after playing almost every day for the past four weeks.”

That doesn’t mean Nadal didn’t give it everything. And it also doesn’t mean Thiem wasn’t fully deserving. To play that sort of power game on clay, and maintain the level, is incredibly difficult to do.

Even though the 6-4, 6-3 win took nearly two hours, nearly 50 per cent of the points lasted five shots or less. That was the only category in which Nadal edged out his young rival – and barely at that. The longer the points went, the more they swung in Thiem’s favour. Against Nadal, that is an impressive stat. 

Nadal’s 76 per cent first-serve effort meant he probably was not nearly as aggressive with that stroke as he needed to be, as indeed he had been in previous weeks. 

Zverev vs. the big servers

The other Next-Gen encounter was the first-ever meeting between Alexander Zverev and Canadian Milos Raonic.

A hamstring issue has curtailed Raonic’s clay-court swing. But he looked impressive in dispatching both Tommy Haas and Thomas Berdych in straight sets. His winners-to-unforced ratios in both matches were off the charts.

Against Zverev, after recovering from being a break down twice in that first set, it was one-way traffic in a 7-6 (4), 6-1 Zverev victory.

Telling stats

The young German’s consistent power off both sides exposed Raonic’s movement. And he couldn’t make enough of an impact with his serve. Raonic served harder than Zverev – but barely harder. He was just 8-for-18 at net. And his 33 unforced errors were far too many.

After not losing his serve in the tournament, Raonic was up against it Friday. “I broke him four times, which is quite impressive, against a server like him,” he said. “I tried to mix up my position – sometimes be aggressive, sometimes try to defend.”

With his big serve, Raonic doesn’t often suffer 6-1 set losses unless he’s injured. And he seemed healthy enough – just under pressure all the time. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Now, the two young bucks have to do it again.

Zverev will face another huge serve in John Isner, the first American to reach the semifinals in Rome since Andy Roddick in 2008. He’ll have had plenty of practice after the Raonic match.

Thiem awaits the winner of a thunderstorm-suspended match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro.

“You beat such a great player and the next day again, you play again against a really tough opponent,” Thiem said.

Djokovic won the first set 6-1, but they were interrupted after three games in the second set as the stadium court was drowned. 

The two resume at 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Thiem can sleep in, in anticipation of facing the winner at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.

Muguruza awakens in Rome

Overshadowed as always in these joint ATP-WTA Tour events, the women have most often gotten the early match on the Centrale court – when the stands are empty – and the late-night match. 

Muguruza has had a reassuring week in Rome, as she heads to Paris to defend her French Open title.

So the energizing run by reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza has gone under the radar.

Muguruza lost her first match in Stuttgart, and her first match in Madrid. But in Rome, she had a good draw to the quarter-finals and found a way to beat No. 9 seed Venus Williams Friday night.

She will play No. 8 Elina Svitolina, who defeated slumping No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova Friday. No. 6 seed Simona Halep, fresh off her triumph in Madrid, has continued her good form. She will face No. 15 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. 

A Halep – Muguruza final is probably the best that could be extracted from the Madrid draw, especially after Maria Sharapova lost early to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. 

Here’s the Saturday singles schedule:

preview

Sunday’s women’s final will be first up at 1:30 p.m., with the men’s singles final not before 4 p.m. (CET)

Raonic first to “Team World” for Laver Cup

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The first nomination for Team World at the upcoming inaugural Laver Cup has been announced.

And it’s Canadian Milos Raonic.

Players officially qualify with their post-Wimbledon rankings, although they also have to agree to play.

“I can’t wait to be part of the first ever Laver Cup – it’s a tremendous opportunity and I’m really looking forward to being part of this unique team competition,” Raonic was quoted as saying in the press release. “Taking on the Europeans is no easy task – they’ve already got Roger and Rafa on board and we’ve all seen how well they’ve started 2017.”

The Laver Cup is scheduled to take place Sept. 22-24 in Prague, Czech Republic. Roger Federer (whose management company is putting it on) and Rafael Nadal are already on board. No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic have yet to sign on the dotted line.

Japanese star Kei Nishikori has already all but said he can’t do it.

Raonic late summer sked heavy

It could be a busy period for Raonic, especially if he goes deep into the US Open draw. The weekend after that, Canada plays India in a World Group playoff tie at home in Canada. Raonic didn’t play Davis Cup at all in 2016 (or the Olympics, for that matter). And he also missed the tie against Great Britain in February.

After a week in Davis Cup mode, Raonic would then head to Prague for the Laver Cup and then, presumably, hit the fall Asian swing.

Team World
McEnroe worked with Raonic last summer through the grass-court season. Raonic reached the Wimbledon final but lost to Andy Murray. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

John McEnroe, who worked with Raonic last summer and with whom he remains friends, is the captain of “Team Rest of the World”.

“Milos is incredibly impressive, both as a player and a person, and I’m very pleased he’s committed to playing the Laver Cup in September. I’m looking forward to working with him again – he’s a total professional, very dedicated and does everything he can to be as good as he can be,” McEnroe said in the press release. “I’m looking forward to helping bring out the best in him and the rest of Team World, and am convinced we can defeat Team Europe in this exciting new competition.”

You have to figure they “embellished” those quotes, right? Who actually speaks like that?

Home-country favorite Tomas Berdych will also play, if he qualifies via ranking. If not, captain Björn Borg could always select him with one of his two captain’s picks.

 

 

Can-American Jesse Levine joins Team Raonic

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KEY BISCAYNE – The Toronto Blue Jays hat was a dead giveaway that there was another Canadian besides Milos Raonic on the practice court Wednesday.

The clash of colours with the neon Nike kit notwithstanding, Boca Raton’s Jesse Levine, a proud Can-American, was out with the No. 5 player in the world helping to put him through his paces.

Levine, 29, is Ottawa-born, Florida-adopted, and a former University of Florida star who became a top-70 player on the ATP Tour. A bad elbow took him out of the game, although he has yet to make an official retirement announcement.

Levine, 29, is a cheerful, positive presence who is also a good player, and has some coaching experience. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In the last year or so he has done some television commentating, worked with juniors at a club in the Boca area, done some junior scouting for Nike and, for a short time early last year, was the coach of Madison Keys before Thomas Hogstedt suddenly appeared to supplant him.

And now, he is at least a part-time part of Team Raonic – a team that already includes a main coach in Riccardo Piatti, a “super-coach” in former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, a physical trainer and a physio.

“The idea came from my agent. He was working with Jesse towards the end of his career. He said he thought it would be a good way of having somebody there that could help me put in hours on court also without having to necessarily chase players (to practice with) – where I can have practice more dictated around me and somebody that I knew well and got along with well and a guy that’s a stand-up character as well,” Raonic said after a 6-3, 7-5 win over Viktor Troicki of Serbia in his first match after being forced to pull out of the Delray Beach final nearly a month ago with a one-inch tear in his hamstring.

“This week obviously we came down here early,” added Raonic, who was forced to miss Indian Wells because of the hamstring. “(Jesse) was helping out. We’re open to working together through a few weeks throughout the year to sort of fill out what I feel I need to get better. He’s somebody that I get along with great, is a little bit closer to my age as well, and somebody that I can play with on court and put in hard hours with as well.”

Raonic looked none the worse for the forced absence, something he often does even after the injury layoffs that have unfortunately become a regular scenario for him the last few years.  He said he felt a little tightness around the hip area in general; that’s the vulnerable bit, the one he had surgery on a few years ago and very possibly a contributor to his ongoing issues with the adductor and hamstring.

Here’s what it looked like. Raonic must have been feeling okay; his first serve after play resumed following a rain interruption clocked in at … 138 mph.

For Raonic, a lack of what’s often referred to as “match toughness” is something he has always managed. After he strained his adductor in the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals against Andy Murray, he didn’t return to the Tour until Indian Wells. And he got to the final there, and then the quarter-finals in Miami as a follow-up.

“I’ve always been the kind of person that gets the confidence through the work rather than matches, constant matches. So I’ve been fortunate in that sense, because I’ve had to numerous times skip little periods of time. This time it’s a little bit more difficult, because after the last injury preceding the Australian Open I was out; got into shape, not the best shape; and then got hurt shortly after and then I was out again,” he said. “So I had a little bit of the compounding of maybe losing my shape. But I’ve put in the work that I can. I’ve prepared the best I can for this tournament. I’m not necessarily in the best position right now, but fortunately it’s a long tournament. Doesn’t mean things can’t change and I can’t get better throughout this event.”

Raonic faces American qualifier Jared Donaldson in the next round, but then the fun begins: he potentially has Jack Sock (who won that Delray final by default) in the fourth round and possibly Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.