Photo : Martin Sidorjak
On Tuesday in Malaga at the Davis Cup, Team Canada presented by Sobeys ran out of gas.
Winning back-to-back titles is difficult in any sport. It’s a lot of matches and wears down the body. After their defeat to Finland in the quarter-finals, the Canadian squad revealed that practically every member of the team was dealing with some sort of injury, which ultimately put an end to their title defence.
No one understands injuries on the Canadian team, maybe in all of tennis, better than Milos Raonic.
The veteran was making his first Davis Cup appearance since 2018 after injuries kept him out of the 2019 Finals and then completely sidelined him from late 2020 until the summer of 2022.
But you never would have known it watching the Missile play on Tuesday.
If there was one undeniable positive to take away from Canada’s short stint in Malaga, it was the brilliant performance of Raonic in the opening singles match.
Returning With an Ace(s)
It was a classic Raonic pounding where he dropped 18 aces and lost a mere three points on serve (one of which was a double fault) in the straight-set win.
His opponent, Patrick Kaukovalta, was completely at a loss for how to handle the Raonic serve.
“I have definitely never played against anyone with that kind of serve. I had no read for it at any point of the match,” explained Kaukovalta. “I was struggling to really get a grip on it. Even the second serves was very tough to read. I tried some different things, but it seemed that every time I tried something new, then he switched it up quickly. Made my returns very difficult.”
Right from the start, when Raonic opened the match with four straight aces (five if you include his second service game), one on his second serve, any potential doubts about his form were silenced. And all the pressure was immediately put on Kaukovalta, as everyone in the stadium knew that a single slip-up by the Finn on serve meant a set for Raonic.
That’s exactly what happened, as the man from Thornhill broke late in each set before easily serving it out.
When asked for the secret to his lethal serve, the Canadian had a simple explanation: “Hit it hard and hit it close to the line.”
Raonic Continues Davis Cup Journey
Returning to Team Canada was a big deal for both the man and the national team who he helped raise to prominence over the last decade plus.
“It’s a great feeling, especially considering the success that both the teams, men’s and women’s, have had these last 12 months,” said Raonic after his win. “To be here alongside these guys, contributing and trying to just enjoy it, you appreciate these moments a lot more once there is not as many of them.”
For Raonic, getting to play at these Finals is the culmination of a long journey. He made his debut for Team Canada in 2010 when they were still stuck in the Americas zone, although his history with the national team goes back even further.
“It’s been a lot of pride and a lot of great feelings coming from it, just because I remember from the first time that I was there as a hitting partner alongside the team in Calgary against Colombia in 2007. We were playing to stay in America’s Group I. Then in 2011 we had the chance to get into the World Group after first time in a long time. There has been a whole lot of progress over the years with it, and we have been a staple now in the World Group’s stage. We have been now at the top of it.”
When the changes to the Davis Cup format was adopted in 2018, Raonic expressed support for the change. But he never got the chance to play in the Finals until 2023.
The landscape of Canadian tennis in 2007, when Raonic first had a role of any kind with the national team, is almost unrecognizable from where it is today. And few people have played a big a role in Canada’s growth into a championship-winning tennis nation than the man from Thornhill.
“Seeing all that, being a part of all that, it’s something pretty incredible. I think it just speaks to a lot more because it’s not the individual achievements Canadians have also had. I think it’s significant about the process and the systems that are in place throughout the country that help Canadian tennis players that want to achieve their goals succeed.”
While Raonic may not have been a part of the squad that finally lifted the Davis Cup trophy in 2022, there is no doubt that he played as big a role as anyone in Canada getting to the top of the tennis world. And while it is unfortunate he was not able to get his hands on it in 2023, it is fitting that he was able to deliver such a dominant performance for the reigning champions.