With the way Milos Raonic has dominated the ATP 250 tournament in San Jose the past three years – a perfect 12 matches won, 24 sets won, nine tiebreaks won and three titles won – a case can be made that he could beat any player in the world in the HP Pavillion, commonly known as ‘The Shark Tank,’ home of the NHL’s Jan Jose Sharks.
Defeating Fernando Verdasco, Denis Istomin and Tommy Haas in the last three finals may not be like beating Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray, but the home court advantage he has established in San Jose would certainly make Raonic a redoubtable opponent for even the best in the sport. Sadly for him, it will never happen with the event now moving to Memphis in 2014.
Sunday’s 6-4, 6-3 win over Haas was so comprehensive that the German later said he understood what it was like to be playing against a “heavyweight.”
After Haas struggled to hold serve in the opening game and then was broken in the third game by a scorching backhand service return winner, you had to wonder if he would ever break the Raonic serve.
It didn’t happen as Raonic never faced a break point and only once – after building a 40-love lead while serving for the first set – lost two points in a row on his serve.
Everything in his game was flowing, with his backhand and his volleying standing out the most.
This week he is in Memphis and for the third consecutive year comes in off a title in San Jose. In 2011, he reached the final in Memphis before losing a 7-6(7), 6-7(11), 7-5 thriller to Andy Roddick in the final. Last year, he looked a little jaded, after Davis Cup in Vancouver and the San Jose event in the two previous weeks, and was beaten 7-5, 7-6(4) by the cagey Jurgen Melzer in the title match.
Seeded No. 2 behind top seed Marin Cilic this year, Raonic still has to be the favourite based on his impeccable run last week. The main court at The Racquet Club of Memphis is not nearly as spacious as at ‘The Shark Tank’ and the smaller dimensions around the court create a different feel that requires an adjustment.
But mainly there will be less room for opponents to hide from Raonic’s devastating serve – one was clocked at 148 mph during the San Jose final – and his bruising ground strokes.
RAONIC VS. YOUNGER RIVALS
– credit Bo Mon Kwan
Milos Raonic will face Jack Sock of the United States in the first round of the U.S. National Indoor Championships in Memphis on Wednesday. It will be the second evening match after a Bryan brothers doubles that begins at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. EST in Canada).
Sock, one of the most promising, young American players, is 20 years old and ranks No. 168.
Here’s a skill-testing question: since he became a top 200 player in October, 2010, has Raonic, 22, ever lost to a player younger than himself?
The answer is at the very bottom of today’s blog.
BACK TO VANCOUVER
The top picture here was taken during the opening match of the Canada – Spain Davis Cup tie earlier this month at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at UBC in Vancouver. The bottom picture is more or less the same shot about six hours after the last ball was stuck on the final day.
It was announced Tuesday that Canada’s team will return to the same arena for the World Group quarter-final against Italy from April 5-7.
This will be the third tie in 14 months at ‘Thunderbird’ for the Miele Canadian Davis Cup team and it was an obvious choice for Tennis Canada officials.
Both the opening round in 2012 versus France and the tie against Spain this year were very well supported by Vancouver tennis fans. It makes sense for the players and everyone else to return to Vancouver, especially with only a two-month turnaround between ties.
Italy may lack some star power with Andreas Seppi, Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli as their headliners, but Vancouverites should be eager to witness the Canadians in a competitive tie as they try to earn a spot in the 2013 semi-finals in September.
My only comment would be that I think the court speed should be faster. For the tie against Spain, it was ‘medium-fast’ as measured by International Tennis Federation standards. It would be great if it could be speeded up to ‘fast.’
One problem is that ITF officials don’t reveal the actual specific speed, just classify it by category. So, it’s difficult to accurately adjust and gauge the speed before the ITF does its measurement on the court four or five days before the matches start.
PET PEEVES ADDENDUM
In last week’s blog, I listed five of my favourite tennis pet peeves. But as soon as the blog had been posted I remembered another – TV directors who cut away from the post-match handshake.
In particular, I was thinking of the Horacio Zeballos upset of Rafael Nadal in the final of Vina del Mar, Chile, nine days ago. Zeballos played great, and the match was full of emotion with it being Nadal’s first tournament in seven months.
When Zeballos won (his first title), he was elated and collapsed to the court. Nadal’s reaction was obviously different. But viewers saw little of either as the TV director cut to a series of shots of people in the crowd applauding. The handshake was briefly shown but more time was spent on the spectators.
What I would like to say to anyone associated with tennis TV coverage is that we viewers invest two, three or more hours following the highs and lows of the two individuals involved. So, when the match is over we want to see THEIR reactions, not the reactions of anonymous people in the crowd. We know they are there, we can hear them. There’s absolutely no need to show them.
What we want to see is the reactions of the players and what producers and directors should do is remain on them 100% of the time immediately following the match point. After they shake hands, and the umpires hand and maybe until bow and wave to the crowd, then it’s okay to show some spectators.
On Monday, in Dubai, there was an interesting match between two young players – Yulia Putintseva, 18, of Kazakhstan and Laura Robson, 19, of Britain. Putintseva won a seesaw battle but we barely saw the handshake. TV cut immediately to the crowd and basically only got back to the players after they had clasped hands and were already moving toward the umpire.
(On Tuesday, there was vast improvement after the Petra Kvitova – Daniela Hantuchova match – no cutaways to the crowd right through the handshake and Kvitova stepping out to acknowledge the crowd.)
This problem exists partly because different TV professionals cover tennis at venues all over the world every week.
But I now blame this on the ATP World Tour and the WTA. They are involved in TV rights and they should make sure that it’s embedded in every TV contract that, after the final match point, the focus must be entirely on the two players – at least until after they have completed the handshake.
As great as it is to win a match, tennis players know that the instant they lose, when all hope of winning suddenly vanishes, can be powerful and show the character of the person.
The handshake, and the walk up to the handshake, is an integral part of a tennis match. It’s the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, it’s all the emotions of the competitors summed up in a final ritual gesture. And WE WANT TO SEE IT ALL – uninterrupted.
RAONIC QUESTION ANSWER:
Two younger players have defeated Raonic, currently ranked No. 14.
1. Ryan Harrison: beat Raonic 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-4 – 3rd round 2011 Indian Wells.
Harrison (above at Indian Wells), 20, is a year and five months younger than Raonic and ranks No. 69.
2. Grigor Dimitrov: beat Raonic 6-3, 6-4 – 2nd round (after bye) 2013 Brisbane.
Dimitrov, 21, is five months younger than Raonic and ranks No. 34.
For the record, Raonic is now 1-1 head-to-head with both Harrison and Dimitrov.