Raonic defeats Verdasco to win SAP Open

Milos Raonic at the SAP Open Pictured above is Canada’s new favourite son, Milos RAONIC at the 2011 SAP Open in San Jose California. Given the talent, weapons and physique that Raonic possesses, seeing him celebrating like this WILL become a very common sight. Raonic won his first ATP Tour singles title 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5) against Fernando Verdasco and as fate would have it, plays him in the 1st round of the Memphis Open today!

The following is written by a Canadian about THE future of Canadian tennis, Milos Raonic (pronounced MILL-oshh RAUW-nitch). Raonic moved to Canada when he was three years old from Montenegro.

By P.M. Roberts, Ottawa (Canada)

On February 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day, it seems Canada loves Milos Raonic. In a tense but impressively disciplined match, the likeable 20-year-old faced off against one of Spain’s best…and WON! The 250 points he got for the win raise Raonic to 59th in the ATP rankings, in a dizzying rise from 154th just 6 weeks ago.

There are three wonderful and unlikely things about this win – the first for a Canadian man on the ATP tour since 1995 (Rusedski in Seoul, South Korea). First, although it was his 8th regular tour event, this was the first tournament that he received a direct admission to (no qualifying round and not a wild card). What better time to announce yourself as a contender.

Second, he had to beat the defending champion and a member of the Spanish tennis elite to win. The mismatch seemed so great prior to the match that the outcome seemed almost a foregone conclusion (“Great tournament, kid, but no way you can beat Verdasco”). Nevertheless, Raonic showed great mental poise and mature strategy, even coming back from 6 to 2 down in the first set tie-breaker.

And third, it happened in a National Hockey League arena! In hockey-obsessed Canada, what a fitting way to grab the headlines. It seems Canadian media have taken notice. Even Grand Slam events can be omitted from sportscasts until the semi-finals. Yet, his recent run of upset wins over players ranked far above him (Llodra -22, Youznhy -10, Malisse – 44) has attracted attention.

In 2010, Tennis Canada began a campaign to bring more young people into tennis.  Raonic and the mega-media attention he is drawing should certainly help. The new Tennis Canada website has the catchy “handle” of “love means nothing”. A scan through the main media web sites here says “Canada could definitely learn to love this guy!”

The American tournament organizers seemed to go out of their way to make Milos feel welcome. Justin Gimelstob arranged for him to meet Pete Sampras, who was there to play an exhibition match against Gael Monfils. Raonic has said that Sampras was his tennis idol growing up.

The tournament organizers seemed to like the “unlikely Canadian underdog” angle to this story. The match was played in the arena where the professional (ice) hockey matches are held. Many Canadian hockey fans collect and wear NHL jerseys to show their support for their favourite teams and players. The trophy presentation included the gift of a personalized jersey of the local San Jose Sharks NHL team (Raonic 1).

To sweeten the moment, a decorative jar of maple syrup, in the shape of a maple leaf, was also given to the poised, somewhat shy winner. Presenter and recipient both seemed to realize that the maple syrup idea was not quite as cute as it had seemed when they dreamt it up …. But everyone smiled and went along with the kitschiness of it.

Some key facts:

According to the ATP website, Raonic is currently 2nd in total number of aces, just behind Karlovic but ahead of Soderling, Tsonga and Roddick. He ranks first in 2nd serve points won at 61%, with Federer just behind at 59%. Winning 91% of his service games so far this year, he is “up there” with Federer and the 2011 and 2010 Rotterdam winner Soderling, both of whom have won 90% of their service games.

© photo credit: SAP Sponsorships

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