TEBBUTT: MILOS MAKES IT TO LONDON
A Wimbledon title, or being champion at Flushing Meadows or Melbourne Park, was probably higher on Milos Raonic’s 2014 priority list, but qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals still has to be very satisfying for him because he has consistently talked about it as a goal.
After being in London at the O2 Arena in 2013 as an alternate, this year he has been determined to make it into the elite eight for the ATP’s grand finale event.
The Raonic ranking has been a neatly-ordered progression over the past four years: starting in 2011 with his breakthrough from No. 156 to a season-end of No. 31, it has been No. 13 (2012), No. 11 (2013) and now to a spot inside the Top 10 for 2014.
A place in the World Tour Finals was not assured until he beat Roger Federer 7-6(5), 7-5 in his quarter-final match after opening with tough 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(7) (Jack Sock) and 7-5, 7-6(7) (Roberto Bautista Agut) victories in his first two rounds at the BNP Paribas Masters last week in Paris.
The Federer win was a major breakthrough, Raonic’s first–ever victory over a member of the game’s dominant Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate.
He was just a little bit better than Federer throughout the match, finishing with two electrifying winners from 30-all in the penultimate game with Federer serving – a rocket forehand service return followed by a beauty backhand passing shot – both cross-court.
“I did my best,” said Federer (above in a Parisian selfie with Notre Dame in the background last Sunday) about the quarter-final loss to Raonic. “I didn’t play a bad match. I think that breaks came out of nowhere. Just a return, the ball bounced on the net, a passing shot.
“It hurts to lose that way but he deserves credit for serving the way he did and doing those passing shots the way he had to do it.
“I mean, he played well. In the tiebreaker of the first set he took risks and it worked out.”
The win ended a Raonic 0-14 streak against the ‘Big Three’ and, when David Ferrer lost to Kei Nishikori later that same day, locked up a spot in the World Tour Finals.
He was not quite as sharp in a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Tomas Berdych in the semifinals but was good enough to make it to the second Masters 1000 final of his career – the first was at the 2013 Coupe Rogers in Montreal.
It was a strong effort from Raonic considering that his autumn campaign was sabotaged by a virus that hit him hard after he lost a thriller to Nishikori in the final of the ATP 500 Japan Open in early October. He retired at 2-5 in his opening round to Juan Monaco at the Masters 1000 in Shanghai the following week and then hit his autumn nadir in Moscow when he lost his opening match 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to No. 116-ranked qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania.
But wins over Steve Johnson and Donald Young in Basel, before a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 loss to an in-form David Goffin, began to rebuild his confidence.
Losing 6-2, 6-3 to Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final was something of a disappointment, but Raonic still had his moments. He was never going to beat the world No. 1 by poking and prodding. He had to use the usual Raonic full assault, which he did. But there were a few too many unforced errors and Djokovic was just too solid returning serve and in the baseline rallies.
Comparing the final to the quarter-final versus Federer, Raonic said, “Roger also, at the beginning of the match, there was a few returns he would get his racquet on. Whereas Novak today, every time he put his racquet on the ball, he was making me play a deep ball.
“And even if he gave me a short one and I would attack, he would be there. So I think it just sort of elevated a certain pressure or demand of having to serve close to the lines, which sort of weighs on your shoulders.”
Djokovic would later say that he had played his best tennis of the week in the final because he had to.
As for Raonic, most of the week he played in a little more relaxed, a little more go-for-it style. One of the criticisms of him has been that he seems to want it too much, that he gets too intense because of his obsessive desire to improve.
During the week in Paris, things were a little bit more free-flow, a little more letting his natural aggressive tennis flow uninhibited.
Despite the 6-2, 6-3 scoreline, Raonic was much more composed, and competitive in the final than he had been 15 months earlier during his 6-2, 6-2 loss to Nadal at the Coupe Rogers.
“Yeah, it helped a lot,” he said Sunday referring to that experience in front of his home fans at STADE IGA. “I think if I played the same way, same way I did in Montreal, I’d probably be a little too embarrassed to show up to this press conference.”
So he leaves Paris and moves on to London after an important week, highlighted by the win over Federer.
Contemplating the importance of the victory against the 17-time Grand Slam champion, Raonic said, “it would have to be up there definitely at this stage of my career, that’s for sure.
“And considering all the circumstances around it, I think this was the biggest win for me.”
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
Even though he was able to soak up the atmosphere of the World Tour Finals as an alternate in 2013, the ever-analytical Raonic said about this year’s event, “I think the toughest thing is going to be – especially for the first time going to London – the toughest thing’s going to be to adapt to not really having those early round matches where you sort of find your way into the event, tournament per se.
“So you’re going to have to be obviously with a limited expectation, because you can’t really be expecting to play your best tennis your first match. But you will have to find a way to accelerate the sort of search for solutions and search of a certain level of tennis.
“It’s going to be something new to me, but I’m more than ready to make that adjustment if need be.”
It will need to be a quick adjustment because he has been drawn in Federer’s ‘Group B’ and will face the great Swiss himself in his opening match on Sunday evening – live on Sportsnet One at 3 p.m. (EST).
When the groups were announced on Monday, Raonic wasn’t given any favours being in with Federer, Nishikori and Andy Murray. Group A – with Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Berdych and Marin Cilic – would definitely appear to be the weaker of the two.
Raonic is currently ranked No. 8 in the world and has a chance to move up to as high as No. 4 with his performance in London, but that would require poor results by current No. 4 Wawrinka in combination with other players not doing well. There are 200 ATP points on the line for every round-robin singles match, 400 for winning a semifinal and then 500 for being the champion.
Looking at what is probably more manageable – if Raonic can win one more match (200 points) in London than current No. 5 Nishikori, No. 6 Andy Murray or No. 7 Berdych, he will move up. If he wins one more than all three of them, he will be No. 5.
(Marin Cilic, more than 200 points behind Raonic and the lowest of the London qualifiers in terms of points, would have to win two more matches than the Canadian to replace him at No. 8).
With regards to any friendly, inter-gender competition with compatriot Genie Bouchard, who is No. 7 in the year-end WTA rankings, Raonic needs to move up one spot to finish the year at least equal to her. For the moment, she edges him for the career–high between the two – Bouchard reached No. 5 on October 20, 2014, while Raonic’s best was No. 6 on July 7, 2014.
Vive la différence!
THE ATP WTF DOUBLES SCENE
Daniel Nestor hopes that absence makes the heart grow fonder and/or that lightning can strike three times at this year’s ATP wrap-up event.
After the splitting with partner Nenad Zimonjic after the Masters 1000 event in Shanghai last month, Nestor has played two tournaments with Rohan Bopanna – a first match exit in Basel and a second match loss in Paris.
Now he will be back with Zimonjic for the World Tour Finals where they are seeded No. 2 and are at the head of Group B.
On two previous occasions after splitting with a partner, in 2007 with Mark Knowles and in 2010 with Zimonjic, Nestor has re-united with them for the ATP’s year-end championship and wound up winning it.
Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada
Nestor and Zimonjic are on the same opening day card with Raonic on Sunday evening. They will face Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil in their first match. The other teams in Group B are Julien Benneteau – Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France and Spaniards Marcel Granollers – Marc Lopez.
The Bryan brothers, who have not won the World Tour Finals title since 2009, are top-seeded in Group A.
WOZNIACKI IS A MARATHON MARVEL
Caroline Wozniacki (above at finish with pal Serena Williams on left) ran the New York Marathon on Sunday and finished with an impressive time of three hours, 26 minutes and 33 seconds.
Wozniacki, 24, entered the marathon to raise money for a charity that encourages youth running.
Her time qualifies her for next year’s Boston Marathon but it’s highly unlikely she’ll run it because it’s the same week in April as the first WTA tournament of the European clay-court season in Stuttgart.
Everyone had to be cheering for the likeable Dane, especially after the heartbreak of having her engagement to golfer Rory McIlroy broken off right before Roland Garros in May. Since that time she has won a tournament (Istanbul), been a finalist at the US Open (Serena Williams) and Tokyo (Ana Ivanovic) and raised her ranking from No. 14 to No. 8. That’s an impressive effort by the former No. 1 (67 weeks) who has now ranked in the Top 10 for six years in a row.
Indisputably one of the best athletes on the WTA tour, Wozniacki looked remarkably fresh at the finish, all things considered, in the above video.
RAFA SANS APPENDIX
Rafael Nadal underwent a successful appendectomy on Monday – that’s his physio Rafael Maymo to his immediate right.
NOT EXACTLY TWO BROKE GIRLS
Two of the more popular women on the WTA tour, Andrea Petkovic and Flavia Pennetta, played in last week’s final event of the season – the WTA Tournament of Champions for the best players from International Series events as well as some so-called ‘next generation champions.’
Petkovic, 27, won 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 and finished the year ranked No. 14, one spot behind the 32-year-old Pennetta, who was the unlikely Indian Wells champion last March.
PELIWO MOVES ON
There was a surprise on Monday when Filip Peliwo posted, what follows below, on his Facebook page. Peliwo, 20, was the 2012 ITF World Junior Champion but has struggled as a pro – starting 2014 at No. 266, he now ranks No. 395.
To all of my family, friends and supporters,
After returning to Canada for a few months to train at the Tennis Canada National Tennis Centre (NTC) in Montreal. The resources at the NTC helped develop my game and get me back on the path to success. Now, I have an amazing announcement to make.
To further my career, dreams and aspirations, I will be heading to Paris, France in 3 weeks to work and train with Nicolas Copin. This is an unbelievable opportunity as I will be training with the likes of Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Nicolas Mahut. Through this experience I will further my career and get to the next level.
I would like to thank Louis Borfiga, Guillaume Marx, Jocelyn Robichaud, and everyone else at Tennis Canada for helping me further my career thanks to your dedication. I would also like to wish the best of luck to Canada's future stars who are training at the NTC. The team will do a great job nurturing the talent.
Lastly, I would like to thank everyone for the continued support as without you, I would not be where I am.
Onwards and upwards,
Filip “Pepe” Peliwo
NOTE: TEBBUTT TUESDAY WILL BE FEATURED ON OTHER DAYS NEXT WEEK AS WE HAVE COVERAGE OF RAONIC AND NESTOR AT THE ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS BEGINNING ON SUNDAY.