It’s not the first time Milos Raonic has pulled out because of injury in the middle of a tournament.
But it’s particularly unfortunate this time.
The No. 1 Canadian was due to meet the teenager who’s nipping at his heels, 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime.
So Auger-Aliassime, who saved a match point in an impressive win over grass-court showman Dustin Brown in the quarterfinals Friday, goes directly to the final.
It will be his third ATP Tour final this season, after Rio and Lyon.
He’ll meet unseeded Matteo Berrettini as he tries to win his first career singles title.
On grass – in his first grass-court tournament in the pro ranks.
How about that? New favorite surface, right?
Raonic’s back barking
🗣 @milosraonic: "It's hard for me to accept this situation but it is how it is.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) June 15, 2019
The star-crossed Raonic had been out since he lost to Kyle Edmund in his second match in Miami.
He missed the entire clay-court season. Earlier in his career, Raonic had always managed to pick right up where he left off after an injury absence. But it’s been significantly more difficult for him in the last year.
And the bottom line is that he likely wasn’t at full health when he did come back.
Raonic was the defending finalist in Stuttgart, where he lost to Roger Federer a year ago.
You could see, even as Raonic managed to get through three-set wins against qualifier Alexei Popyrin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the earlier round, that he wasn’t feeling great. He survived both in third-set tiebreaks.
His match against Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals on Friday was more routine (6-4, 6-4). But even then, he had the trainer out to rub some heat creme on his back. And he looked uncomfortable throughout.
Wimbledon the goal
Beyond how … not fun it would have been to lose to a decade-younger compatriot when he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, Raonic has had to take a big-picture look at things. He’s got Queen’s Club next week. And then he has Wimbledon.
Still, if you can respect a player for not taking the court when he feels not fit enough to play, Raonic has done this often enough in his career that he risks being tagged with it.
It’s the 10th time he’s done it – the fourth time in the last 14 months.
Great opportunity for FAA
For Auger-Aliassime, it’s a great opportunity to win a title. His opponent is not much more experienced on grass than he is despite being 4 1/2 years older. And Berrettini definitely prefers the clay even if he beat No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov, Nick Kyrgios and the in-form Jan-Lennard Struff to get there.
Berrettini’s first-ever grass-court season was a year ago. He qualified at both Halle (beating Brown in three tiebreaks in the first round of qualifying, something Auger-Aliassime experienced this week) and Eastbourne. He lost first round in both main draws.
He then came back from two sets to none down to defeat Jack Sock in his first-ever match at Wimbledon, before losing to Gilles Simon.
Berrettini also played a match on grass earlier this year in Kolkata, in a Davis Cup qualifier against India.
A year ago, Auger-Aliassime, then 17, skipped the grass-court season entirely to work on his game. He was grinding it out on the clay-court Challenger circuit.
He had the points from a Challenger title to defend this week, won on clay a year ago in Lyon.
He’s done that. He’ll maintain his career-high ranking of No. 21 regardless of what happens in the final.
The kid has grown visibly more comfortable on the surface just through this week. His only previous experience on it was as a junior in 2016. He lost to Alex de Minaur (with whom he’s scheduled to play doubles at Queen’s next week) in the quarterfinals, when he visibly ran out of gas.
He and Denis Shapovalov made the doubles final.
But that was three years ago.
Standout effort against Brown
In Stuttgart, Auger-Aliassime defeated veterans Ernests Gulbis and Gilles Simon in straight sets.
The match against Brown took three tiebreaks to decide. Auger-Aliassime was down 3-5 in the third set. Brown served for it at 5-4, but the Canadian’s ability to consistently put the ball in play on the return served him extremely well.
He made Brown earn it. And the German was almost, but not quite, up to the task.
Auger-Aliassime went through the gamut. He received a code violation for angrily firing a ball out of the court. He buried his head in his towel during one changeover. He slipped and fell a few times – surprisingly, not many.
Went through everything today 😅 https://t.co/fvWTPX8aRK
— Félix AugerAliassime (@felixtennis) June 14, 2019
But he remained resolute. And not only did it pay off in a win Friday, it also will add some terrific experience to his grass-court file.
Berrettini, yet another Italian who has broken through in the last few years on the clay courts, came into the week at a career-high No. 30 in the singles rankings. He’ll be at no lower than No. 24 if he loses. If he wins, he’ll be right behind Auger-Aliassime at No. 22.
(All screenshots from TennisTV)