Milos Raonic out of Roland Garros

Save

It’s not a major shock, after Milos Raonic’s rather passive loss to Denis Shapovalov and his subsequent withdrawal from Rome.

But the 27-year-old Canadian announced on Twitter Sunday that he’s out of the French Open, too.

Raonic has been dealing with a meniscus issue since the off-season, when it was bad enough that he didn’t even get on court for six weeks.

After a slow start to the season, he came on at Indian Wells and Miami. But after two victories in Monte Carlo, he gave Marin Cilic a walkover.

And after upsetting No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid, he wasn’t nearly the same aggressive player in the 6-4, 6-4 loss to his young countryman, in their first-ever meeting.

Solid in Paris

Raonic has played well in Paris. As with many big servers, the surface still allows his serve to be effective, while giving him extra time to reach and set up for shots.

He has two fourth rounds, two third rounds and, in 2014, he reached the quarterfinals before losing to Novak Djokovic.

He missed the tournament in 2015, as well, with another of his many injury issues.

Raonic is defending 180 points from his round-of-16 effort there a year ago. His absence likely will drop him out of the top 30 from his current No. 28, but won’t inflict any major damage.

He’s entered in Stuttgart and then Queen’s Club on grass, which will give him some three weeks to get healthy again.

Aussie James Duckworth, with a protected ranking of No. 105, will take Raonic’s place in the main draw. The withdrawal came just minutes before the qualifying draw was to take place in Paris.

Shapovalov wins battle of Canada over Raonic

Save

Milos Raonic walked onto Arantxa Sanchez court to meet younger countryman Denis Shapovalov Thursday with a smile on his face.

He left it the same way, all smiles at the net, despite being upset by his teenaged rival 6-4, 6-4 in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open.

“Definitely one of my best days on clay. To be on the court against such a legend for me, and for my country, it was an honour. It was fun. There was no pressure on me, obviously a lot more on him playing a young guy coming up. But, I mean, I just enjoyed myself,” Shapovalov told the media in Madrid.

“To beat him, it was a huge confidence booster for me. The match felt like everything kind of went great. I was guessing a lot the right way on his serves. When I got my racquet on them, usually they were falling in. There’s nothing to criticize about my performance today.”

The No. 1 Canadian didn’t play the best tennis of his life. But he didn’t play poorly.

The match was on the racket of his 19-year-old countryman. And Shapovalov proved himself more than up to the task on an occasion that not only had significance as an opportunity to get to another Masters 1000 quarterfinal, but to upset the conventional order of tennis in his country.

Shapovalov
Shapovalov’s backhand was sturdy and stalwart in his win over Raonic. (TennisTV)

More balanced in his baseline attack than his more experienced rival, Shapovalov redlined his groundstrokes while minimizing his errors.

If that’s not a level of risk that will always work to his benefit, he made it work brilliantly on this day.

He hit 28 winners – 16 on the forehand, and made 17 unforced errors. Raonic was 14, and 14.

The 27-year-old had no answers from the back court. Worse, the depth of Shapovalov’s shots and Raonic’s inability to put enough serves into play made opportunities to come to the net on the return games rare. 

On Shapovalov’s serve, Raonic opted to stand much further back against the lefty than he had in the previous round against No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Shapovalov was able to both outside corners, with angle. And more often than not, Raonic was left defending.

He earned just one break point on Shapovalov’s serve. On his own serve, Raonic was fatally passive. 

Shapovalov
A mishit by Shapovalov in the seventh game of the first set resulted in the definitive break for Shapovalov, as Raonic couldn’t reach an impossibly awkward bounce. (TennisTV)
Shapovalov
“Sorry,” says Shapovalov, with an admirable effort at sincerity, as he breaks and goes on to win the first set. (TennisTV)

Serve not effective enough

And even when he was able to get a big forehand swipe on the ball, Shapovalov returned it back at him just as hard. When he left one short, Shapovalov put it away. Raonic rarely used his slice backhand, and in the topspin backhand game, he is very much Shapovalov’s lesser.

Shapovalov
Some of Shapovalov’s winning groundstrokes were so velocirapturous, even Raonic coach Goran Ivanisevic couldn’t help but be impressed. (TennisTV).

Raonic served at an 87 percent first-serve clip in the first set. He had seven aces in his first three service games. And yet, he won a fairly pedestrian (for him) 63 per cent of those points in that set.

He probably didn’t use the body serve enough. And he rarely tried the serve-volley play. 

Shapovalov put 16 returns in the court in the first set. He won 12 of those points (10 of the first 12). 

In the second set, Raonic was far more effective on the first serve, losing just three of 18 points. But his percentage dropped. And of the 10 second serves he hit, he managed to win just four points.

Placid versus peppy

The body language, no surprise, was at opposite extremes between the two. Raonic was benign, never mad at himself, but also never pumping himself up. There was very little reaction at all throughout.

Shapovalov was so full of nervous energy as he bounded to the net for the coin toss, he practically ran into chair umpire Damian Steiner. But he made that energy work for him. He seemed always in control from beginning to end.

It was a performance that allowed the 19-year-old to jump up a big rung on the maturity ladder.

His elder was very gracious at the net, approaching with a smile and offering a hug. And as Raonic left the court, he nodded to Shapovalov’s mother and coach, Tessa, who was applauding him off the court.

Raonic couldn’t really be mad at himself for what he didn’t do. Although he might look at the match again and rue the things he might have done.

He took the net 11 times, but won just five of those points. Shapovalov went 6-for-7.

Edmund next up for Shapovalov

In the Madrid Open quarterfinals, Shapovalov will meet another unseeded young player in Kyle Edmund of Great Britain.

Unlike his meeting with Raonic, which was a first, Shapovalov may know Edmund better than any other player he’s faced in his brief time on Tour.

This will be the fifth meeting between them, the first on clay. In the space of less than a year, between the first round of Davis Cup in 2017 and Brisbane to start this season, they played four matches.

Only two were completed. Shapovalov defeated Edmund 6-4 in the third set last summer at Queen’s Club, on grass. Edmund returned the favour in Brisbane, beating Shapovalov 6-4 in the third.

In the third round of the US Open last September, Edmund retired after the first game of the fourth set with a back issue.

They first met in Ottawa a little more than a year ago, when Canada took on Great Britain. That was the infamous match in which a clearly overwhelmed Shapovalov, quickly down two sets, let his emotions get the better of him and fired the tennis ball that hit chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye, fracturing the socket.

Fifteen months later, Shapovalov no longer seems overwhelmed or unprepared for anything.

He’ll jump to about No. 34 in the rankings with the win, virtually guaranteeing himself a seed in Paris. If he can beat Edmund, he would jump into the top 30.

Meanwhile, Edmund will make his top-20 debut on Monday. With his quarterfinal effort, he has exactly the same number of ranking points – 1,905 – as Novak Djokovic, the player he upset in the second round in Madrid. With a win, he could jump to No. 16.

It’s been a good draw for Shapovalov, who has yet to face a seed. He defeated Benoit Paire, who had already eliminated No. 15 Lucas Pouille. And then Raonic, who had dispatched No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov. And now, Edmund, who took care of Djokovic.

Edmund defeated No. 8 seed David Goffin 6-2, 6-3 in the third round. to reach the clash with the Canadian.

Canada vs. Canada in Madrid as Raonic meets Shapovalov

Save

There will be a Canadian in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open this year – guaranteed.

And on Thursday, Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov will take the same court for the first time ever to determine who that will be.

The match will be on Arantxa Sanchez court, not before 2 p.m. Madrid time (8 a.m. EDT).

Raonic, the king of Canadian men’s tennis for so long, has never played Shapovalov, his current heir apparent even if his elder is a long, long way from passing the torch.

In fact, the two barely know each other. It’s unclear if they have ever practiced together. 

Shapovalov began his Davis Cup career with a playoff tie in late 2016. Raonic hasn’t played Davis Cup since a first-round tie in 2015. 

Both hail from the same area of Toronto: Raonic from Thornhill, Shapovalov from neighbouring Richmond Hill. But the nearly nine-year age gap is huge. By the time Shapovalov might even made made a viable practice partner back at home, Raonic had long left town to pursue his career.

In an interview after last year’s US Open, Shapovalov said the two had met “a couple of times”. “Really nice guy. But we just haven’t talked tennis too much. Helps me with opponents a little bit,” said Shapovalov, who has forged a much closer relationship with another Canadian rival, Vasek Pospisil.

Not only have the two bonded at Davis Cup, they also share the same manager.

So what to expect, then, from this colossal clash? It’s a leap into the unknown

Previous matches no indicator

Shapovalov will have a completely different match than he had in the second round against Benoit Paire.

CanadaIt was a match he managed to pull out 6-4 in the third set. But it was also a match the teenager could have lost in straight sets, had his French opponent been slightly less flaky. 

It had brilliant moments, and brutal moments (Paire double-faulted three times when serving for the second set). And while Paire is a powerful server, he’s not in Raonic’s league.

Raonic’s win over No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov was an impressive one considering his lack of recent match play, and an ongoing issue with his meniscus that has to be managed carefully. 

But Shapovalov is a lefty. And the patterns will be completely different.

Comparables

Even Shapovalov likely would admit that he’s not among the best returners in the game, although he’s improving week by week – especially on the backhand side.

He’ll have to return well to beat Raonic. But there’s very little data about how Shapovalov has fared against the big servers in the game. He just hasn’t faced many so far.

CanadaThe 19-year-old has never played John Isner, or Kevin Anderson. He defeated Ivo Karlovic in Delray Beach this year, and Sam Querrey in Miami.

He faced 6-foot-11 American Reilly Opelka in the qualifying at Queen’s Club a year ago, and defeated him in a third-set tiebreak.

But if Raonic serves at his top level – the way he served in the first set against Dimitrov, for example – he’ll control his own fate.

For Raonic, the relevant comparable is his record against lefthanders.

He hasn’t, though, played a lefty with a one-handed backhand since he lost to Feliciano Lopez in Cincinnati in 2015.

Surprisingly, Raonic has hardly played any lefties over the last year and a half. Raonic lost to Adrian Mannarino (a completely different type of lefty) in Canada last year. But his wrist was already giving him trouble and he didn’t play the rest of the summer after having a procedure done in early September.

A year ago in Madrid, Raonic defeated Gilles Muller. He also defeated Muller at the 2017 Australian Open, and he was 1-1 against Rafael Nadal in their two meetings during the opening tournaments in 2017.

Key patterns

Raonic’s kick serve in the ad court

Madrid is one of the most effective courts there is in terms of the kick serve. And Raonic has a good one. One of his go-to plays is to kick it out wide to his (righthanded) opponent’s backhand, and volley or hit a forehand into the open court.

But that serve will go to Shapovalov’s forehand. So that’s a game-changer.

Shapovalov’s backhand return

Canada

Raonic will pepper Shapovalov’s backhand with the serve, going wide in the deuce court and down the T on the ad side. He’s going to get his share of aces, to be sure. 

Will Shapovalov be able to get his racket on enough returns on that side to make Raonic play on his serve? That’ll be a key.

Shapovalov’s forehand to Raonic’s backhand

The basic crosscourt pattern takes on an extra dimension in this match, as Raonic will try to run around and hit as many forehands as he can in the ad-side corner. But as a lefty, Shapovalov will be able to get enough shape and angle with his forehand to make Raonic hit more backhands than he’d like to. 

It’s a pattern Shapovalov is going to try to maintain, while Raonic does his best to change the direction. The problem with that is that Raonic will have to hit his backhand down the line well to make that change. And that’s not a great shot for him.

You’d expect that whomever is serving is going to be able to dictate that pattern more often than not. 

Canada

Shapovalov’s backhand to Raonic’s forehand

That’s a pattern that favors Raonic. But not as much as it might against some players, as Shapovalov can be explosive on that side. Raonic has to be forceful enough with it to pull Shapovalov out wide, to neutralize the ability he has to hit backhand winners when he’s balanced, and has time.

To get the rallies on his side, Shapovalov will also have to hit his backhand down the line. It’s not a shot he’s known for; every highlight reel of his backhand features mostly crosscourts. 

But Shapovalov hit a fair few of them against Paire on Tuesday. And he hit them well. 

Shapovalov’s ability to pass

Scrolling through the list of Shapovalov’s opponents the last year, it’s hard to find one who regularly came to the net and tested his passing shots.

There’s no doubt Raonic will try to test it. He has been very aggressive moving forward in his matches this season. And against Dimitrov, he was hugging the baseline – jumping into the court, even – to return serve. 

For his part, Shapovalov wasn’t averse to using a “Raonic-type” pattern against Paire. He served out wide to Paire’s backhand on the ad side, and came in to either hit a forehand into the open court, or put away a volley.

Neither player is going to want long rallies. But if there’s one of the two more amenable to staying in them than the other, it’s probably Shapovalov. 

He is likely to have to hit a lot of passing shots Thursday, as Raonic tries to be the first to shorten the points.

Raonic against his countrymen

Until this year, there was only one fellow Canadian Raonic had to worry about running into at the ATP level.

That was Vasek Pospisil, a contemporary who was in the top-30 not that long ago. 

The two have met only twice on Tour, but both were big occasions. A semifinal in Montreal at their home-country Masters 1000 in 2013 was won by Raonic in a third-set tiebreak. The other was the final of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. the following year, also won by Raonic. 

But he did have a somewhat similar experience in the second round of Indian Wells in March, as he met Shapovalov’s good friend Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime, an up-and-coming 17-year-old and a good friend of Shapovalov’s had qualified for the tournament with two good wins, and defeated Pospisil in the first round. 

For his part, Raonic had played just four matches in 2018, and was clearly not match tough or match fit after an off-season spend nursing a knee injury. 

But the notion of losing to a kid he remembered as a 6-7 year-old running around the national training centre in Montreal clearly sparked something. Raonic defeated Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4 and went on to reach the semis in Indian Wells and the quarterfinals in Miami (losing to Juan Martin del Potro both times).

As difficult as the last few years have been because of one injury after another, you know Raonic has enough pride in being the alpha dog that he will summon all the energy and motivation he has to keep the kid – who’s gaining fast – in his place.

Canada
The Indian Wells opener against young countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime was a tricky one, but Raonic played solidly. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Shapovalov hot on his heels

Shapovalov had an opportunity back in February to leapfrog Raonic in the rankings, had he won in Delray Beach. He couldn’t do it. And since then Raonic has resurrected his ranking back near the top 20.

The youngster will jump into the top 40 on Monday with what he’s done so far in Madrid.

If he can beat Raonic, he would move into the top 35 and all but guarantee himself a seeding at the French Open. (He could still do that in Rome next week).

A year ago, Shapovalov played the qualifying for the first time in Paris and lost in the first round. To arrive at Roland Garros a year later as a seed would be quite the feat.

Raonic injury ends rough Monte Carlo for Canada

Save

Milos Raonic is not, generally, a player who cuts an overly sympathetic figure.

His big-serving game style and stoic demeanor bring him more respect than genuine emotional attachment, in most quarters.

But as the injuries keep coming, as the 27-year-old Canadian starts to gain a little momentum only to be stopped – once again – by a physical issue, he may well get more tennis fans starting to root for him.

Because it’s getting old.

And the prime years of his career are slipping by quickly.

Raonic was forced to withdraw before his third-round match against No. 2 seed Marin Cilic Friday in Monte Carlo because of a right knee injury.

The injury first became evident during his second-round victory over Marco Cecchinato of Italy, after he already pulled out of the doubles with what was listed as a right eye injury.

After Canadian wild card Félix Auger-Aliassime was eliminated in his first-round match by German veteran Mischa Zverev, Denis Shapovalov also went out in the first round to fellow 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas.

And now, Raonic.

Raonic went out for a hit Thursday morning, to see if the knee had responded well enough over night to give it a go. It hadn’t.

He’ll still move up one spot in the rankings to No. 21 – just five points out of a return to the top 20 – after missing the tournament a year ago and having no points to defend.

But knees are not quick-fix issues.

Here’s a recap of Raonic’s health struggles over the last three years.

2015: foot surgery, back injury

Raonic started the 2015 season by reaching the Brisbane final, the Australian Open quarterfinals.

He posted his first career win over Rafael Nadal on his way to the Indian Wells semis.

A pinched nerve in his foot – a longstanding, ongoing issue – forced Raonic to retire in Monte Carlo in his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych. He tried to manage it and play Madrid. But surgery was the only option. And he couldn’t get back in time for the French Open.

Still in with a shot at one of the final spots at the ATP Tour finals, Raonic ended his season after Shanghai with a back issue that had been bothering him since the summer.

2016: Adductor kills momentum

Raonic began 2016 with some crowd-pleasing (yes, you read correctly) tennis as he defeated Roger Federer to win Brisbane.

He seemed on his way to the Australian Open final – until an adductor injury put the kibosh on his semifinal clash with Andy Murray.

The Canadian didn’t return until Indian Wells. But he picked up right where he left off with a final there, and a quarterfinal loss in Miami to Nick Kyrgios.

The fourth-round loss to Albert Ramos-Viñolas in Paris was a bit of a shocker. But overall, his clay-court campaign was a successful one.

And on the grass, he took it up a notch with a final at Queen’s Club and a final at Wimbledon – both losses to Andy Murray.

After opting to skip the Olympics, Raonic cramped in a second-round loss to Ryan Harrison at the US Open. The aftereffects of that caused him to miss a crucial Davis Cup tie a few weeks later.

Later in the year, he after getting through a quarterfinal with an ankle sprain, he pulled out before his semifinal in Beijing with what he called a “tear on the outside of the ankle.”

Raonic had to pull out of Beijing in 2016 with an injury, before his semifinal match.

He recovered and continued to play. But he pulled out before his semifinal at the Paris Masters with a leg injury.

Having already qualified for – and finally being able to play in – his first ATP Tour Finals, he wasn’t going to take any chances. So in the grand scheme of the Milos Raonic Medical File, these were tiny bumps.

Raonic reached the semis in London, lost 9-7 in a third-set tiebreak to Murray, and finished the season ranked a career-high No. 3.

Despite all the physical wobbles, it was the best season of his career.

2017: Adductor, wrist, calf, knee

The early part of Raonic’s season went well – until a high hamstring tear in February. He withdrew from the Delray final, missed Indian Wells, won a match then pulled out in Miami – and wasn’t seen again until May.

He returned and immediately began playing good tennis through the clay-court season. Every single player who defeated him was a top-quality opponent.

His Wimbledon? Okay – a quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer on the heels of a five-set win over Alexander Zverev in the previous round.

But his left wrist already was an issue. 

Raonic played the 500-level event in Washington, D.C. out of necessity, because of the parameters of the ranking system. But he lost his first match at his home-country event in Canada, to Adrian Mannarino. And that was it for the summer hard-court season. The Canadian had a procedure on that left wrist, and was out until October.

When he did return in Tokyo, he won his first-round match but tore his calf in the process. After one game, he retired in his second-round match.

That was it for the competitive season. But that wasn’t the end of the injuries.

As Raonic got back to training, he injured his right knee, and that cost him six weeks.

2018: A slow start – and the knee again

Raonic began 2018 short on both fitness and tennis. He took early losses to Alex de Minaur, Lukas Lacko and Steve Johnson to start the season.

He looked slow, and his serve wasn’t clicking. Raonic said that the nature of the knee injury meant that, unlike so many of his previous issues, he couldn’t at least serve while he was idle, or rehabbing.

But then, sparked by a confrontation with 10-years-younger countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in his first match at Indian Wells, he came alive. He reached the semifinals there and the quarterfinals in Miami, losing to the on-fire Juan Martin del Potro on both occasions. 

With each week, he seemed to gain in both fitness and effectiveness.

And now, it’s the knee again – the same knee that cost him most of his off-season.

Leg jam, knee twist

Monte Carlo
(TennisTV.com)

The knee injury occurred in the middle of the first set of his match against Cecchinato.

The leg got stuck, the knee got twisted, and Raonic told ATP Tour physio Stéphane Vivier there was a “throbbing pain” in two areas.

When discussing a possible tape job, Raonic pointed out that the loss of rotation could have ancillary consequences, mentioning his previous hip issues. He took a tablet, but there wasn’t much to be done. 

He got through the match, a fact Cecchinato no doubt continues to lament. But he couldn’t go, 24 hours later, against Cilic.

The long-term injuries to so many of the top players in the game have been well-documented. But they’re all older than he is, with many more miles on the tennis odometer. This string of physical woes may be even more frustrating  on some levels.

Every year, it seems, Raonic has to battle and start all over again a few times.

And with the meat of the competitive season coming up over the next few months, it’s no time to be sidelined.

(Monte Carlo screenshots from TennisTV.com)

 

Federer vs. del Potro in Indian Wells final

Save

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With all the absences, with Novak Djokovic going out early, and with so many high seeds gone too soon, the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles final turned out all right after all.

No. 1 seed Roger Federer and No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro, two extremely popular players both on form this season, will vie for the trophy Sunday.

After that, it’s possible one of both of them will finally shave.

The two fuzzy finalists took different paths to the final match Saturday as Federer grinded out a win, and del Potro cruised on a way the conditions made things challenging.

Federer looked like a man who pressed the snooze button too many times until halfway through his match against 21-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia.

Most often, television and the tournaments themselves demand the world No. 1 get an spotlight match in the evening session. At worst, he tends to play late afternoon. So the 11 a.m. start may have felt as foreign to him as a middle-of-the-night wakeup call for a commuter flight.

The ATP Tour said that Federer had had just two 11 a.m. starts prior to this in his career: in 2006 here in the desert, and in 2004 at the tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland.

“Pasta at 9:15. It was yummy,” Federer quipped during is post-match interview for ESPN.

Tough conditions, tough match

Potro
  Raonic never found a groove against del Potro Saturday. And his lack of effectiveness on serve was a bit of a shocker.

The No. 1 looked out of sorts, perhaps a little stiff and sore, too (the cold, windy weather is not a friend to any 36-year-old professional athlete). And before he knew it he was down a set an a break to Coric, the 49th-ranked Croat who pulled off a third-set tiebreak win over No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson in the previous round.

But Federer woke up. He adjusted his targets to cut down the errors he was making in the wind. And Coric woke up, too – only in a different way. Faced with the prospect of upsetting the world No. 1, he flinched just enough, strayed from a successful game plan just enough, to allow Federer to pull out a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Better lucky than good – but both help

Federer admitted he had some luck. He also didn’t decide, when he was in big trouble, that perhaps it just wasn’t going to be his day and ride out the inevitable.

“I think when you are confident and maybe also experienced and you have that combination, there’s no real need to panic, you know, because you can assess the situation quite easily,” Federer said. “You’re understanding that the opponent is playing better. It’s breezy. It’s hard to play offense. And when I was playing offense he was defending well. In the neutral rally balls, maybe I was missing a bit too many times.

“I think Borna played a great match. He was very steady. I can see why he caused a lot of problems to a lot of players, and he’s only going to improve from here,” Federer added. “Look, I should have lost the match. I was down twice a break in the third, I was down a break in the second. So, yeah, no doubt about it, this was definitely the toughest match, maybe the toughest match (this season).”

Despite appearances – at least early on – Federer said he was fine, physically. He said he was just caught off-guard by Coric’s game, the way he absorbed power so well and how he neutralized his offensive game combined with what Federer termed a recent “recalibration” of his game style to become a little more offensive-minded.

“He won because he’s Roger Federer”

Coric thought he had it, at some moments.

The Croat said the quick start was a combination of himself playing well, and Federer not playing well.

“But he stayed in the match and he pushed me. He basically, you know, he said to me, ‘Okay, you need to win the match. I’m not going to give the match to you.’ Many other players, especially because I was playing very good and I was not missing, many other players would just give the match away, you know, and he didn’t do it,” Coric said.

 He won also because he’s Roger Federer, and because he plays great. … He played, I think, tactically very, very good, very smart in those very important points, you know, which I was a little bit surprised.”

Undefeated in 2018

Potro

Federer is now 17-0 to start the season – the best start of his career. Del Potro is not far behind him at 16-3. And despite some back woes earlier in the tournament, the Argentine looked in perfect form Saturday and had little trouble with Raonic.

The Canadian’s lack of match play this season – and the Argentine’s abundance of it – contributed to del Potro having more confidence in being aggressive in the challenging conditions. Raonic never found his rhythm.

“I was sort of trying to find a groove. Especially when you sort of haven’t played for a while, you already are overthinking a lot of things. And then, with the wind, you’re not sure. You don’t have just that calm and ease about going through things and figuring things out on the fly,” said Raonic, whose ranking will rise from No. 38 to No. 25 with his week in the desert.

“It was surprising to see him serving not too hard, and I broke his serve very quick in both sets. That give me the control of the match,” del Potro said. ” I play a smart game, because the conditions were tough to play, but I did everything good. And I served well. I took all my chances. It was an easier match than what I expect before.”

25th meeting between Federer and del Potro

PotroFederer is 18-6 against del Potro during their careers.

But despite that rather lopsided head-to-head, they have had some fascinating tussles. Del Potro has defeated Federer at some of the tournaments that mean the most to him. He won back-to-back three-setters in the finals of the Basel event (Federer’s hometown tournament) in 2012 and 2013. And he has beaten Federer twice at the US Open, including last year.

“We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that,” Federer said.

Raonic, the No. 32 seed, makes Indian Wells semis

Save

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The last time Milos Raonic played the BNP Paribas Open in 2016, he lost to Novak Djokovic in the final.

For five straight years, the 27-year-old Canadian went one round better each year – from the third round through to the ultimate one.

After missing it a year ago, and dealing with a laundry list of physical woes, and starting the 2018 season at less than peak fitness and searching for a coach, perhaps Raonic was looking for his oasis.

And maybe he has found it.

Raonic defeated No. 18 seed Sam Querrey 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 Friday to advance to the semifinals, where he will face Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.

“A lot of things were very good. … I have to be disciplined with myself to put a good level consistently throughout, from start to end. I was a little bit up and down too much, and if I don’t get lucky like I did at the end of that first set, it’s a very different storyline,” Raonic said. “So it’s important, I’m happy about it, but still got a long ways to go, a lot of things to keep working on and doing better.”

Calm, quiet, easy Indian Wells

seed

Del Potro, who has been dealing with a sore back, also needed three sets (against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany) to get through.

“It’s a little bit quieter here. It’s easier to be around the tennis. You don’t have to fight through traffic to get here. You get here with ease. So I think that gives me a personal calm.,” Raonic said. ” I think the conditions help. Obviously this year it’s quite a bit slower than it has been in the past, but the ball still moves through the air even though the court slows it down a bit. But it’s always bounced high.

“So I think there have been a lot of things that have contributed to me feeling comfortable here,” he added.

Things have unfolded in just the right way – including a walkover in the fourth round over an ill Marcos Baghdatis – and Raonic has taken full advantage of it.

He squeezed into the last seeded spot, No. 32, only late in the game. So he got here early enough to have plenty of practice on the rather unique courts. 

And in his first match, he met much-younger countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime, who had just won the first ATP Tour-level match of his career and who remains, understandably, a little in awe of a player he has looked up to.

The opener against young countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime was a tricky one, but Raonic played solidly. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Pumped up against the kid

Raonic remember seeing “little Félix” around the national training centre in Montreal when he first arrived there from Toronto. He’d have been 16 or 17; Auger-Aliassime around seven.

The notion of losing in that situation definitely pushed a few buttons.

“Yeah, the pressure of it, it sort of was on the end of things. I think that also, at the end of that match there was some kind of sense of relief, as well, to get through that. Especially with not just everybody else, but myself, questioning … how things were going to come along,” he said.

If there was relief, there also perhaps was a spark that Raonic might not have had in his three earlier tournaments, where he went out at the first hurdle twice, and only won one match in all.

After that victory over Auger-Aliassime, in which he played very well, he was in the tournament in a way he might not quite have been in the others.

“Second match also I was a little bit borderline there, and I put it together today, as well. So there has been a lot of moments of relief that have occurred throughout this week so far,” Raonic said.

Aggressive play, simplified tennis

seedThe Canadian has been ultra-aggressive on the ultra-slow courts, something that might seem counter-intuitive but in reality makes perfect sense for him.

Raonic’s serve – especially the kick serve that bounces up higher here than almost anywhere – remains as effective as it is anywhere. Never a player who will outlast a relentless baseliner even at his very best, the Canadian’s current fitness level and lack of match play would strike a line through that tactic anyway.

Goran Ivanisevic, the coach who is on trial with Raonic through this event and the next one in Miami, is telling him to keep it simple.

“The one thing he has done is he’s made the objectives very clear with me and really tried to simplify things, just so I can stick to the things I know how to do well and not try to overcomplicate my tennis at this moment,” Raonic said. “When you make a decision, go for it. Don’t question it. Don’t think about the ‘what ifs’. What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? Just stick (to it).”

No doubt Ivanisevic, the former coach of Marin Cilic, will get far more credit than he warrants for Raonic’s good week. Punditry is like that. It’s more likely that he’s in the right place, right when Raonic is healthy enough to truly start his season.

The Canadian probably doesn’t need a former Wimbledon champion to tell him to keep it simple. Any tennis fan watching him probably could offer that same advice. But there’s no doubt it’s what he needs to hear at the moment. And apply it.

“At the end of the day, my tennis should not be complicated. First chance I have, go forward, try to serve well, and rip the ball when you have the chance,” he said.

Raonic 2, del Potro 1

Raonic and del Potro split two matches within a two-month period back in 2013. Back then, del Potro had fully come back from his first wrist surgery and was in the top 10. Raonic was on his way up and just outside it.

A lot has happened in the interim – two big men battling their bodies.

They didn’t play again until a year ago in Delray Beach. Raonic won that one.

“Well, he has everything to be in the top again. His game is so good. His serves are very strong. He’s very good player,” del Potro said of Raonic. “So he just need couple of weeks to improve his ranking and be what he deserve to be.”

As it is, Raonic will make a nice leap from his current No. 38. Asked earlier in the week what emotions it summoned when he saw that number next to his name, Raonic said “anger”.

He’ll be at least No. 25, no matter what happens. If he can beat del Potro, he would move up three more spots. If he can win the tournament – making that one extra round to complete his Indian Wells staircase, he would be No. 14 and well on his way back to the top 10.

Canadians bloom in California desert

Save

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The California desert has for years been a place where Canadian tennis players bloom in winter.

The sheer number of snow birds ensure big-time support at the BNP Paribas Open no matter the Canadian, no matter the opponent. 

But when 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime faced 27-year-old Vasek Pospisil before a packed Stadium Court 2 Friday night, the crowd was as tense as the two players. It was as though rooting for one meant rooting against the other. 

And of course you know how Canadian are so polite and all.

It was a conflicted group although in the end, they got behind the fresh face, the up-and-coming teenager, who defeated Pospisil 6-2, 7-6 (4) to reach the second round.

Here’s what it looked like.

More “firsts” for Felix

Auger-Aliassime is the first player born in the 2000s (Aug. 8, 2000 to be exact) to win a main-draw match on the ATP Tour. He is the youngest to win one since his good friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov did it against Nick Kyrgios in the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2016.

And he’s the youngest to do it at the BNP Paribas Open in nearly 30 years, since Michael Chang (17 years, one month) did it in 1989.

“This was a bit more unexpected, I think, than the other “firsts” that I’ve known over the last two or three years, I was coming from the qualifying, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for my results. I had some expectations about my attitude, about the way I wanted to play. And I think that was really something that helped tonight. I was able to sort of put the emotions aside, even if  wasn’t easy, and concentrate on my game, and it paid off in end,” Auger-Aliassime said. 

The courts here – generally acknowledged by the players as being among the slowest, if not the slowest, on Tour – suit Auger-Aliassime far more than they do Pospisil, who can do significant damage on faster courts.

“It was always going to be tough, especially here. He’s very physical, and the courts are the slowest of the year for sure. He’s extremely fit. I knew I had to play well to win, and I didn’t do that. But again, credit to him. It was tricky, windy, and he handled it better than me,” Pospisil said.  “I struggled through the qualifying mentally a little bit, physically. I actually felt better (Friday), both physically and mentally, more fresh. But it was just tough, Felix played well, and conditions were tough.”

Pospisil has just jumped into the main draw at the next Masters 1000 in Miami, after a few withdrawals. But first, he’ll head to scenic Drummondville, Que., about an hour from Montreal, to play a $75,000 Challenger there next week.

Canadian colors in the desert

bloom

Auger-Aliassime said it felt like Davis Cup in California when he pulled off a comeback victory in the qualifying against Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos Wednesday to reach the main draw.

But the support was just as fervent when he played an American, Bjorn Fratangelo, in the first qualifying round the previous day.

Polansky gets rock-star treatment

Peter Polansky, who navigates around the fringes of relative obscurity most of the year, was buoyed by a jubilant crowd when he defeated Marius Copil of Romania in a first-round match Thursday.

It was a match Polansky called the “craziest” of his career, a victory that went 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker and was a gruelling test of both body and nerve.

Polansky has had too many heartbreaking losses to count in similar matches, which seemed to be going his way until the very, very end. This one, he pulled off to reach the second round. He will play No. 20 seed Adrian Mannarino of France Saturday.

Here’s how it looked against Copil.

Polansky had near-uninimous support against Copil. On Friday, with Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, the crowd was torn.

“The energy was different compared to my final round of qualifying. I heard encouragement for Vasek, and I heard it for me. But it stayed very respectful. I think the people were just happy to see two Canadians perform in such a beautiful stadium, and I think they were happy for me when I won in the end,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I expect them to be there for the next match as well.”

Another battle of Canada next up

The “next” one for Auger-Aliassime is against a player he considers one of his idols, longtime top Canadian male Milos Raonic.

Raonic is not in the best quadrant of his career, after multiple injuries cut short his 2017 season. Those injuries also are having their effect on 2018 in terms of the lack of practice and match play.

Still, even if his movement isn’t back to where it was, Raonic’s serve remains a formidable weapon.

As Auger-Aliassime coach Frédéric Fontang put it, it will come down to the return.

Auger-Aliassime also has the advantage of already having had four matches on the Indian Wells courts – not to mention nearly a full week of intense practice.

Raonic, who squeezed in as the No. 32 seed, had a first-round bye. This will be his first match since he lost in the second round of the Delray Beach event a few weeks ago.

“I think Felix can give him trouble here, honestly. He has a great game for these conditions. He’s very physical. He moves well … It’s very tough to create anything and hit winners, and he can really hang physically,” Pospisil said. “So I think, serving well, he can definitely give Milos some trouble Especially if he does like he did against me – swinging free, is confident and has nothing to lose. Then maybe he has a chance to win.”

Little Félix was in awe

Three summers ago, Auger-Aliassime warmed up Raonic ahead of his match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He had turned 15 just a few days before. Raonic was about to face big-serving Ivo Karlovic in his first match of the tournament.

The kid was the jinx; Raonic, who had reached the final the previous time the event had been held in Montreal in 2013, lost in two tiebreaks.

Here’s some vintage video of that warmup session.

Auger-Aliassime is a lot taller now – his hair is a lot taller, too. His serve is a lot harder. He has since signed a deal with Nike, so his kits are fancier.

And he’s done enough on the tennis court that he won’t be quite as in awe of Raonic, the former No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist.

Raonic reached the Indian Wells final the last time he played it, in 2016.

“Everything’s possible in sport. You never know. We saw with Denis (Shapovalov) last year at the Rogers Cup,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“It’s unbelievable for me to be able to play Milos in the second round. Just two or three years ago I was warming him up, he was sort of my idol. It was like, ‘Wow, Milos is right there’. Now, to play him in the second round of a Masters 1000 is incredible.

“I’ll let the emotions in a little bit (from Friday’s victory), and then I’ll start preparing for Sunday.”

Looking ahead

Auger-Aliassime also is entered in next week’s Challenger, although if he does manage to defeat Raonic, his entry would automatically be rescinded.

Even if he doesn’t, the teenager may pass on it after all the tennis and emotions of the past week. Coach Fontang said it’s something they would discuss, when the time comes.

As with Pospisil in the main draw, Auger-Aliassime just squeezed into the Miami qualifying in recent days, after a few withdrawals. 

His ranking for that entry list was No. 166. 

Right now, it’s actually lower than that, by nearly 10 spots, despite his efforts in the desert. Auger-Aliassime has 56 points coming off his rankings resumé the next two weeks because a year ago, he won a Futures event in Canada and then reached the semifinals of that Drummondville Challenger.

The difference, of course, is that at the ATP level, he can earn big chunks of points quickly, if he can win matches. It would take a win over Raonic to get him back to where he is this week.

Raonic auditioning coaches once more

Save

Canadian Milos Raonic has not played a lot of tennis in the last six months, due to a succession of injuries.

But as he prepares to return to the court next week at a small tournament in Delray Beach, Fla. for the first time since his first-round loss at the Australian Open a month ago, he’s about to start auditioning two new potential additions to his team.

Tennis.Life has learned that Raonic will work with a couple of experienced top-level coaches with sterling player resumés over the next few weeks on a brief trial basis. And after that, he’ll make a choice.

One of the coaches is Goran Ivanisevic, the Croatian former Wimbledon champion.

The other is Jonas Bjorkman, the Swedish player who reached No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in doubles (with 54 career doubles titles).

Both excelled on the faster courts on which Raonic has done his best work during his career.

Raonic’s long coaching list

Whomever Raonic chooses will join an expanding roster of coaches who have worked with the 27-year-old Canadian over the last few years.

Raonic missed a lot of time in 2017, to to a wrist injury and then a knee injury in the last few months of the season. He played only 13 tournaments in all, and played just three matches from early August on.

auditioning
Riccardo Piatti and Ivan Ljubicic formed an effective tag team when they anchored Team Raonic a few years ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Still, in that time, he had five coaches: mainstay Riccardo Piatti, plus Richard Krajicek (early), Mark Knowles (around Wimbledon), Dusan Vemic (during his brief appearance in the summer before he had a procedure on his wrist) and then longtime David Ferrer coach Javier Piles in the fall.

Piles was working with him during the recent Australian swing, where he lost in the first round of Brisbane to young Aussie Alex de Minaur and in the first round of the Australian Open to Lukas Lacko of Slovakia.

Before that, Raonic spent time with John McEnroe, and Carlos Moyá (both of them at the same time, the year Raonic reached the Wimbledon singles final in 2016).

auditioning
The super-tandem of Carlos Moyá and John McEnroe helped the Canadian to his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in 2016. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

There was also Ivan Ljubicic, and before him, Galo Blanco.

Solid coaching resumés

auditioning
Raonic’s first big breakthroughs on Tour came under the tutelage of Spaniard Galo Blanco. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Bjorkman has worked with Andy Murray and Marin Cilic (succeeding Goran Ivanisevic) over the last few years.

As for Ivanisevic, he came on board with countryman Marin Cilic and helped beef up his serve, resulting in Cilic’s first Grand Slam title at the 2014 US Open. The two worked together for almost three years. 

After that, Ivanisevic coached Tomas Berdych.

The upcoming US hard-court season is key for Raonic, perhaps not an ideal time to be auditioning coaches. But, really, when is there a good time during the season?

The Canadian, ranked No. 3 at the end of 2016, fell out of the top 20 for the first time since Aug. 2012 last November. He currently is ranked No. 31, and is defending a finals result from a year ago in Delray.

Without it, he could fall out of the top 40.

Everything to gain in the U.S.

auditioning
Former No. 4 Jonas Bjorkman will audition to become Raonic’s new coach in the upcoming weeks. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

On the plus side, Raonic missed Indian Wells a year ago and is defending only 45 points in Miami. So there’s nowhere to go but up in the month of March – assuming he’s healthy.

Raonic looked rusty in Australia, not in game shape and slow afoot. He is still searching for his first victory of the 2018 season.

The turnover in the Canadian’s entourage has not been limited to the coaching position. For several years during his best stretch of career so far, Raonic had a dependable team around him that included physio Claudio Zimaglia and trainer Dalibor Sirola. 

Most of that tight unit – including Piatti and Ljubicic, who is acting as manager – are now working with the Croat Borna Coric.

Wawrinka, Raonic no-gos for Abu Dhabi

Save

Stan Wawrinka was optimistic – even a week ago – about being about to return to action after knee surgery at the six-man exhibition in Abu Dhabi in 10 days.

On Wednesday, the Swiss star announced that he won’t be ready in time.

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to play in Abu Dhabi this year as I’m not ready yet to complete at this level. Together with my team, I’m working hard and we will do everything to be ready in time for the Australian Open” Wawrinka said in a statement.

“I’m sad that I won’t be able to play in front of the great fans at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship but I need to be patient and give my body the time it needs.”

Wawrinka didn’t enter any of the various warmup events before the big one in Melbourne. There were choices: Doha, Brisbane, Pune, Auckland or Sydney. But if he feels he’s ready, and wants matches, no doubt they’d be willing to give him a wild card.

It does seem likely that he will start straight up again at the Australian Open – assuming, again, that he is ready. The best-of-five set format is a higher threshold than a regular ATP Tour event.

Not everyone is going to be ready

Of all the top players who missed significant time in the second half of the season, Novak Djokovic seems the most ready to get started. The Serb has his new, full team by his side.

Canadian Milos Raonic already is in Melbourne and has a hit-and-giggle planned with fellow New Balance athlete Steve Smith (the Australian cricket captain) at Melbourne Park Thursday.

However, he also has pulled out of the Abu Dhabi event. That may mean something, or nothing. We shall see.

Raonic had planned to go straight from the weekend event to the ATP Tour event in Brisbane. (Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal plan to do this as well).

Dhabi

Murray completed a training block in Miami and returned home before he heads to Abu Dhabi.

Kei Nishikori, who is training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., typically holds a media day for Japanese and other media around this time of the season, to kick off the new year.

At this point, there is no media day planned.

Nishikori plans to return in Brisbane the first week of January. But obviously that will depend – as with Wawrinka – on the state of his injured wrist as he returns from a long layoff.

As for Nadal, there are a few unsubstantiated murmurs out there. And it doesn’t appear – from the limited information you can get on the web, that he has practiced a ton as the Mallorcan looks after his knee. 

So that’s a wait-and-see – for both Abu Dhabi, and the tournaments after that.

To replace Raonic and Wawrinka, the exhibition has drafted Kevin Anderson and Next-Gen star Andrey Rublev.

Anderson plans to play the ATP event in Pune, India the following week. Rublev is signed on for the one in nearby Doha.

The exhibition already already has the new roster up on its website, so clearly the organizers were prepared.

Season over for Milos Raonic

Save

Canadian Milos Raonic was the No. 3 player in the world as the 2017 season began.

He had just turned 26. And given no one knew at the time that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would have renaissance seasons, there was every hope that finally, in 2017, the Canadian might do something big.

But as with so many of the top players in 2017, it didn’t turn out that way.

And after withdrawing from Vienna next week and the Paris Masters the week after that, Raonic’s 2017 season is officially over.

He’s currently ranked No. 12.

With the 760 points he now cannot defend in Paris and at the ATP Tour Finals, Raonic could well drop out of the top 20 by season’s end.

As always, injuries played a large role in the Canadian’s struggles. His health situation was even worse than in 2016. A year ago, he managed his issues well enough that when he did play, he performed well.

Great results amid the injuries

Raonic began 2016 with a win over Roger Federer and a title in Brisbane. Only an adductor injury that worsened in the Australian Open semifinals against Andy Murray got in the way of an even bigger run there.

He returned only at Indian Wells and reached the final, as then the quarters in Miami. Raonic battled to the Queen’s Club final and the Wimbledon final and lost in a third-set tiebreak in the semis of the ATP Tour finals to close out the season at a career-high ranking.

But 2017 was different.

He began the season with a thigh injury – it’s always the same problematic area. And then he missed the Davis Cup tie against Great Britain in early February. Missing Davis Cup has been a consistent feature of the past few years.

Raonic returned a few weeks later at a small tournament in Delray Beach, Fla. and reached the final. But then withdrew before facing American Jack Sock. He missed Indian Wells and tried in Miami, but withdrew before his second match. 

The clay-court season featured consistent attendance – five tournaments, including small ones in Istanbul and Lyon – and a fourth round against Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain that he dropped 8-6 in the fifth set.

weekend
Raonic reached the final in Istanbul in his first tournament since withdrawing from Miami about six weeks prior.

But by then, a left wrist issue was proving problematic. 

North American summer scuttled

Raonic played the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. in large part because the ATP Tour ranking rules penalized him if he didn’t add a 500 event to his schedule. He reached the quarters, but lost his first match in Montreal, pulled out of Cincinnati and had a procedure on the wrist as he missed the US Open as well.

He returned for Tokyo, and was pretty happy about it even if he basically defeated Viktor Troicki with one arm in the first round. 

 

A post shared by Milos Raonic (@mraonic) on

Then? A calf issue.

Raonic lasted just one game in the second round of Tokyo before retiring against Yuichi Sugita. He pulled out of Shanghai.

And now, he has pulled the plug on the season.

Top five in 2016 on the sidelines

Raonic is in top-flight company.

Here are the top five players at the start of 2017.

Raonic

The Canadian was the last one left standing, as the other four haven’t played in months.

Well, perhaps “standing” isn’t the right word.

More like hobbling.