Shapovalov to carry the load for Canada

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NEW YORK – The Canadian Davis Cup team nominations for next week’s World Group playoff tie against India will be announced shortly.

And the pressure of keeping the nation in the World Group for 2018 will fall squarely upon the shoulders of 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov.

Milos Raonic is on the shelf after a procedure on his wrist. Vasek Pospisil is dealing with a disc problem in his back. So that may curtail his participation in the tie, or at least limit it.

Peter Polansky declined. The venerable Daniel Nestor, who turned 45 Monday, has struggled to win matches this summer. Not only that, he has lost four of his last five Davis Cup doubles rubbers, with various partners.

Shapovalov
Pospisil has a bad back, and Raonic is out with a wrist problem. So Canada’s two best Davis Cup singles assets will essentially be missing. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

So, it will be up to the teenager who took the tennis world by storm over the last month. Shapovalov made the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. And then he made a star-making run from the qualifying to the fourth round of the US Open over the last two weeks.

Nominations Tuesday

The team is expected to be Shapovalov, Pospisil, Nestor and … Brayden Schnur, who will be making his Davis Cup debut.

It’s a tough ask. On the plus side, the Indian squad is far from a top-10 nation.

Shapovalov

Team India doesn’t have a single player ranked in the top 150 in singles. Ramanathan is the highest-ranked at No. 155. Bhambri is No. 158, and Myeni is at … No. 490.

Bopanna is the top-ranked Indian doubles player at No. 17. But if you thought maybe they would go hard to try to win the doubles rubber, they have left three top-100 doubles players off the four-man roster. Divij Sharan, Purav Raja and the legendary Leander Paes are left off the list.

The tie will be played on an indoor hard court in Edmonton, out in the western (and northern) part of the country. And most of the Canadian squad is expected to assemble there this weekend.

Pospisil’s back is back

Pospisil retired after one set of his first-round match at the US Open against Fernando Verdasco. And he pulled out of the doubles as well.

He has been the player who often carried the squad when Milos Raonic was unavailable due to injury – which has been most of the last three years. But Pospisil has his own career to think about; the 27-year-old has been dealing with back issues on and off the last few years. And the last thing he needs is another extended period out of action.

Shapovalov

If not Pospisil, who?

The powers-that-be have evidently decided that the other Canadian teenage phenom, Félix Auger-Aliassime, will continue to play a series of Challengers in Europe. It might be time to put in a call to Frank (The Tank) Dancevic, in that worst-case scenario.

No rest for weary Shapovalov

What Shapovalov probably needs, after the physically and mentally draining month he’s had, is a week on the beach somewhere. But he has to continue pushing on. 

But not only will he be counted on to win both his singles matches – both best-of-five sets, as at the US Open – he will then head straight to Prague after an invitation by captain John McEnroe to represent “Team World” at the Laver Cup against the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

It’s a lot to ask of himself, with so many opportunities still available this fall to improve his ranking even more – and perhaps even think about being seeded at the Australian Open next January.

Raonic out, Kyrgios in at Laver Cup

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The ink isn’t even dry on the lineup for next month’s Laver Cup exhibition event in Prague.

And already there is a substitution.

It’s not a shocker. But Canadian Milos Raonic, who had a procedure done Thursday to relieve the pain in his left wrist, is out.

And Aussie Nick Kyrgios – perhaps the only (knock wood) healthy marquee player left eligible for the “rest of the world” team, will step in.

The event announced it Friday.

You have to think they made it well worth his while.

It seems unlikely that they didn’t already know on Wednesday, when they made the big, splashy announcement, that Raonic wasn’t going to participate. But why spoil a good party.

It seems impossible that Raonic will play Davis Cup for Canada against India, in a key World Group playoff tie next month. The tie takes place in Edmonton the weekend before the Laver Cup. 

Decimated “World” team

You would think that Kyrgios would be at the top of the Laver Cup list for the “World” team, which beyond Raonic had three Americans – Jack Sock, Sam Querrey and John Isner – as the team.

John McEnroe chose Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and tennis’s new “it guy” Denis Shapovalov of Canada as his captain’s picks. Europe captain Bjorn Borg had a no-brainer in selecting Alexander Zverev.

Kei Nishikori, who never signed on for the Laver Cup, is out for the year anyway. 

What a shame that this event kicks off in a season when so many top players have pulled the plug. Add Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Nishikori (and Andy Murray, who has never seemed particularly intereste) to the other top players, and you have a pretty star-studded event.

As it is, as long as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer stay healthy, they’ll have enough star power. But it’s definitely not what it could have been.

Raonic out of US Open

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NEW YORK – Canadian Milos Raonic has had his fair share of injuries, that’s for sure.

But he’s usually been lucky enough not to miss a Grand Slam.

The 26-year-old’s luck ran out this time, as the left wrist issue that hampered him in Montreal and forced him to miss the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati last week will also keep him out of the US Open.

“I have tried everything in my power to rehabilitate this injury in time for the US Open in order to play an event that is so truly special to me. However, the pain is too great and, in consultation with my doctors, I am left with no option but to withdraw from the event,” Raonic announced on Instagram.

Raonic also said that he underwent a procedure Tuesday to remove portions of the bone that have been causing the discomfort.

He said he has “too much respect for the US Open and my fellow competitors to take a spot in the draw when I know I cannot give full effort due to this injury.”

Raonic said he’s already back in the gym starting rehab, and hopes to be back on court in a few weeks.

“I look forward to rejoining the tour healthier and stronger and finishing the 2017 season in proper form,” he wrote.

Other big events on tap

Raonic made no mention in his note about two other major upcoming events on his schedule.

Canada plays Indian in a crucial World Group playoff tie in just over three weeks in Edmonton, Alberta.

And right after that, Raonic is due to lead Team “rest of the world” against Team Europe in the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague.

Raonic’s absence just adds to the top-10 woes at this event with Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori also out (all of them for the season).

His absence will give a lucky loser a spot in the draw. And it also will move Juan Martin del Potro up to the No. 24 seed. And that means he can avoid the top eight seeds in a potential third-round match.

It also means that Robin Haase of the Netherlands squeezes into a seeded spot in the draw.

Raonic had been scheduled to be the No. 8 seed. Now, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who hasn’t done much of late) will get that seed.

Milos Raonic Socked out of D.C.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Milos Raonic has been searching for his old forehand for awhile now.

It’s there, in patches. But the 26-year-old fears he might have taken it for granted, neglected it a little bit, as he worked on shoring up other parts of his game.

Raonic said that the best thing he did during his quarterfinal match Friday against No. 8 seed Jack Sock of the U.S. at the Citi Open was … return serve.

If that’s his best weapon on the day, he’s in trouble. And he knows it.

The 7-5, 6-4 defeat put Raonic out of the event. And it sends him on the road to Montreal for the first of the two back-to-back Masters 1000 tournaments.

Raonic spoke to Tennis.Life after the match.

There’s some really interesting stuff in there – including the Canadian’s thoughts on all the injuries right now, and the withdrawals which have decimated the draw at the Rogers Cup next week.

Coupe Rogers next up

The draw for the Montreal event was made Friday afternoon. And Raonic, as the No. 6 seed, has a bye in the first round.

His first opponent will either be Adrian Mannarino of France, or Next-Gen Daniil Medvedev of Russia (Medvedev lost to Alexander Zverev on the same court in D.C., later in the day, in another Citi Open quarterfinal).

The seed in his third round is No. 9 David Goffin, which is a good outcome although never an easy match.

He’s in top seed Rafael Nadal’s quarter of the draw.

Raonic talks coaching changes, Davis Cup

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WASHINGTON – Milos Raonic won the Citi Open in 2014, in a final against countryman Vasek Pospisil.

He hasn’t been back since, preferring to conserve his energy for the back-to-back Masters 1000 series events in Canada and Cincinnati that follow the D.C. event on the calendar.

But after taking a last-minute wild card, Raonic is in the third round after a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (8) win over France’s Nicolas Mahut that took nearly two hours on a very warm day.

It was patchy, not unexpectedly when players compete for the first time on hard courts after the end of the grass season. Raonic had 26 aces. But he also had nine double-faults. And he only converted one of the 10 break-point chances he had against Mahut – or it could have been far more routine.

Check out this Tennis.Life interview with the 26-year-old Canadian in which he talks Citi Open, coaching changes, training regimes and … Davis Cup.

Raonic’s grass-court consultant Mark Knowles remains very much in the picture. After Wimbledon, Raonic went down to his home in the Bahamas to train. New coach Dusan Vemic also was there.

If Raonic is to win the Citi Open this time, he will have to plow through very different landscape from the one around him in 2014.

That year, the highest-ranked player he defeated to win the title was Pospisil, then ranked No.36.

Big-time 500 field

The tournament this year had Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev – but suddenly loaded up with the wild cards and added Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov and Raonic.

There have been some early casualties – Gaël Monfils and Nick Kyrgios went out in their first matches. And Zverev barely escaped his, winning in a third-set tiebreak against Jordan Thompson of Australia.

Monfils vs. Mischa Zverev turned into … Guido Pella vs. Yuki Bhambri, in a flash.

Zverev vs. Kyrgios turned into … Zverev vs. Tennys Sandgren.

But Nishikori vs. del Potro is still on for the third round.

Raonic will have to beat Marcos Baghdatis, then perhaps Jack Sock, then perhaps the winner between Dimitrov and Zverev – just to reach the semifinals.

That’s not dissimilar to what he might have to do at the Masters 1000 tournaments the next two weeks. So it’s a good dress rehearsal.

New coach for Milos Raonic

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WASHINGTON – Milos Raonic Inc. is hiring again.

All jokes aside, the 26-year-old Canadian has added another coach to his advisory board for the hard-court season.

Dusan Vemic, the 41-year-old Croatian-born Serb who has been part of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team on several occasions, has joined Team Raonic for the summer.

Mark Knowles, the retired doubles specialist who began working with Raonic during the grass-court season, also will be back. And main coach Richard Piatti will be in Cincinnati and at the US Open, Raonic told Tennis.Life.

Vemic, though, is flying solo this week at the Citi Open.

Here’s what they looked like on the practice court Monday, with Kei Nishikori on the other side of the net.

Vemic was a top-150 singles player with a big serve. But his best results came in doubles. He reached his career high of No. 31 in 2009.

For a brief time after he retired, Vemic and Petar Popovic worked together with Andrea Petkovic of Germany. It was during that period that the German reached the top 10.

He worked with Djokovic and now-former coach Marian Vajda during many of the Grand Slam events from 2011 to 2013. He last was on hand for the Miami Open last year. Vemic also is a coach with the Serbian Davis Cup team and was the coach of the Serbian Olympic men’s team in Rio last year.

Vemic coached the legendary Bryan brothers for the last part of 2016. As of Wimbledon, he still was coaching them. The Serb’s various biographies and online resumés still state that he is the coach of the Bryan brothers.

The Bryans won the Atlanta ATP event last week, and are in Washington this week for the Citi Open. But Vemic is with Raonic.  

We will investigate.

Vemic Rogers Cup memories

Vemic teamed up with Djokovic in doubles at the Rogers Cup. They lost to Rafael Nadal and his 41-year-old, retired coach Francisco Roig.

The standout tennis.life memory of Vemic came at the Rogers Cup back in 2009. 

Rafael Nadal wanted to play doubles. But for whatever reason, he couldn’t hook up with a partner. So he ended up playing with his associate coach Francisco Roig.

Roig was 41 at the time, and retired a decade.

Their opponents? Djokovic and Vemic, who was near his career-high ranking in doubles at the time. Nadal and Roig won, 7-5, 6-4. It had to be a little bit embarrassing!

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.

shocker
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.

shocker
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.

shocker
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.”