It’s hard to believe the numbers didn’t work out for Milos Raonic during last week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London.

In two key matches, against world No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic, all four sets he lost ended in tiebreaks. Raonic, with a 72% success rate in tiebreaks this year (right between Djokovic at 74% and Murray at 70%), failed to win even one of them. Djokovic defeated him 7-6(6), 7-6(5) in the round-robin phase while Murray prevailed in a three-hour and 38-minute semifinal classic 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(9).

Despite the losses, Raonic’s performances start-to-finish in 2016, including straight-sets wins over Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem in London last week, have landed him in the No. 3 spot in the year-end rankings.

It’s a career as well as a Canadian best and he’s only the second player not one of the so-called Big Four to claim a top-three finish since 2006. (Not too many would guess that David Ferrer – No. 3 in 2013 – is the only other player to interrupt the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray decade-long dominance.)

While the numbers did not break in Raonic’s favour in the two matches against Djokovic and Murray last week, he does have an advantage going forward – he turns 26 on December 27th, which is three-and-a-half years younger than 29-year-olds Djokovic and Murray. He has clearly overtaken contemporaries No. 5-ranked Kei Nishikori (a year older at 27 next month) and No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov (six months younger) as the player most likely to make a Grand Slam breakthrough in 2017.

“I thought I did well,” Raonic said after the crushing loss to Murray. “I managed with a lot of things. The thing that I’ll probably be most proud of when I sit down and talk with my coaches is just the way I kept fighting through.

“A lot of things seemed difficult today, like it would be a tough day before the match – just everything over the last little while. I really just put it all out there, just gave it a go with everything.”

He had to be referring partly to the quad tear that forced him out of the Paris indoor event just eight days before his first match against Monfils in London.

He is now 0-6 against Murray and 0-3 versus Djokovic in 2016 but the positive is that he has never been closer to winning than in those two matches last week.

“They maximized better on those opportunities,” Raonic said about Djokovic and Murray. “They’ve been in those situations many more times than I have. I think in both matches I had more break point opportunities (7-2 vs. Djokovic and 12-7 vs. Murray). I had more chances. Obviously it can go both ways. But I have to be very proud that I gave myself opportunities, great opportunities, against both of them for the first time this year.”

Maybe the most positive thing for Raonic (above with David Beckham and son Romeo) was that he was healthy throughout the ATP World Tour Finals. That has to be encouraging heading into 2017.

“There’s definitely a lot to take away from it,” he said about his experience at the O2 Arena grand finale. “The goal is going to be to continue to stay healthy. That’s the one thing that’s been sort of my kryptonite. Most moments I can start playing well, but rather than making momentum and progress, I can sometimes take myself two steps back. I sort of have to reset myself, whether that be through injuries or other issues.”


Raonic will certainly be working on that with fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola, in the middle between Raonic and coach Carlos Moya above.

The 2016 season was compromised by the right adductor injury that bothered him in Australia and got worse during the third set of his Melbourne Park semifinal versus Murray, a left wrist issue in Rome, a left hip problem at the French Open, general cramps at the US Open, a right ankle ligament tear in Beijing and then the right quad tear at the Paris Indoors.

That he was able to play so well last week after the quad tear that occurred during his quarter-final win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Paris has to be a big boost. His preparation was certainly somewhat restricted but he didn’t seem to be suffering in terms of cardio during the gruelling 218 minutes he spent on court with Murray.

Now, the six weeks before his first tournament of 2017 – the Brisbane International – is an opportunity to work to attain an even higher level of preparation.

He can also refine a game that made dramatic advances in 2016, most notably in the areas of court movement and volleying. Against Murray in the semifinals, he was an impressive 41/61 at the net.  

Defending champion in Brisbane after beating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 in last year’s final, Raonic will be up against a strong field from January 1-8. New to the event in 2017 will be Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal along with returning 2016 semifinalists Thiem (Federer) and Bernard Tomic (Raonic) plus 2015 semifinalist Nishikori (Raonic).

Milos Raonic is an astute individual, and specifically he’s an aware guy with a distinctly logical mindset. It’s hard to put anything past him.

There was a revealing moment at the very beginning of his media conference after the tough loss to Murray.

Here’s the Q&A:

Q. During that match you were two points from victory at the end. The level was high. Victory and defeat are so close when players like you are on the court? You will try again? How do you feel now?

RAONIC: I think I had a match point, so that’s not two points.

Argentina again?

Photo: DavisCup.com/Zimmer

This weekend’s Davis Cup final is an intriguing match-up in Zagreb between host Croatia and Argentina.

The most compelling aspect of it is whether Argentina can finally win a Davis Cup after four previous appearances in the final.

With a history of such fine players such as Guillermo Vilas, Jose Luis Clerc, Martin Jaite, Alberto Mancini, Mariano Puerta, Guillermo Canas, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, David Nalbandian and Juan Martin del Potro, Argentina is desperate for a victory. Croatia won its only Davis Cup in 2005 led by Ivan Ljubicic’s 11-1 record in singles and doubles.

The nightmare for Argentina came in 2008 when it was favoured playing at home in Mar del Plata against Spain without superstar Rafael Nadal. There was a lot of infighting on the team involving del Potro, Nalbandian and captain Mancini. It wound up coming down to the fourth match with Jose Acasuso, subbing for an injured del Potro, losing 6-3, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to Fernando Verdasco.

Argentine hopes this time rest squarely on the shoulders of the No. 38-ranked del Potro who upset Andy Murray in the opening match of the semifinals in Glasgow in September in an exhausting five hours and seven minutes by a 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 score. Unsung Guido Pella (over Kyle Edmund) and Leonardo Mayer (over Dan Evans) in the fifth and deciding match also contributed victories in the Argentines’ upset.

The South Americans are playing their fourth round in a row on the road after winning ties earlier this year in Gdansk, Poland, and Pesaro, Italy, as well as Glasgow.

This weekend’s headliners are del Potro (September 23, 1988) and Croatia’s Marin Cilic (September 28, 1988), 28-year-olds with birthdays just five days apart.

The wild card in the tie may be 37-year-old Ivo Karlovic, playing Davis Cup for Croatia for the first time since 2012. Currently ranked No. 20 after an impressive season, he’s back because of the doubts regarding Borna Coric, Croatia’s No. 2 singles player who’s returning to action for the first time since knee surgery in late September.

Head-to-head records favour del Potro. He’s 8-2 with Cilic and has won their last five meetings dating back to 2012, and 4-1 against Karlovic including four in a row since 2011.

The challenge for Argentina will be to try to get a victory in the doubles – possibly with del Potro playing – or a second win in singles from either No. 41-ranked Federico Delbonis, No. 72 Pella or Mayer, ranked No. 137 but a stellar (13-5) Davis Cup competitor.

The fourth player for Croatia is Ivan Dodig, a 31-year-old veteran who currently ranks No. 13 in doubles.

Davis Cup is on Sportsnet One this weekend – beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Friday and noon on Saturday. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any coverage on Sunday.

The Brits are coming


If it’s anything like the last time Canada played Britain in Davis Cup – on clay in Bournemouth, England, in May 1967 – next year’s World Group opening round in Ottawa from February 3-5 should be a thriller.

Back in 1967, two months before Canada turned 100 years old, Mike Belkin won the first match 6-1 in the fourth set over Britain’s Mike Sangster.

Following that, every match went down to the wire with British No. 1 Roger Taylor edging Bob Bedard 7-5 in the fifth set, Taylor and Bobby Wilson outlasting Belkin and Keith Carpenter 12-10 in the fifth set in doubles and Taylor beating Belkin 6-3 in the fifth set of the final match to give the hosts a 3-1 victory.

This time world No. 1 Andy Murray will lead the visitors into the nation’s capital as he and his mates mount a challenge to regain the Davis Cup they won in 2015.

He will likely be joined on the team by his doubles specialist brother Jamie and No. 45-ranked Kyle Edmund and No. 66 Dan Evans.


For captain Martin Laurendeau’s squad it should be world No. 3 Milos Raonic and No. 132 Vasek Pospisil in singles along with No. 15-ranked doubles stalwart Daniel Nestor. Options for the fourth player on the team will likely be No. 134-ranked Peter Polansky, No. 240 Denis Shapovalov and No. 241 Frank Dancevic.

The Canadian team is returning to Ottawa almost 23 years to the day (Feb. 3 instead of Feb. 4) since the last tie in Ottawa. That was at the Ottawa Athletic Club when the home side beat Jamaica 3-0 without losing a set – including Nestor defeating current Rogers Cup tournament director Karl Hale 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in the second singles match.

This time the tie is in the Arena at TD Place, the home of the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League – adjacent to the stadium where the Redblacks play their CFL games.

“Every match outside of Andy playing against our No. 2 is very close, if not in our favour,” Nestor told Sportsnet in an interview about the World Group opening round. “In that situation anything can happen and I see it going down to a fifth match.”

For Nestor there’s a personal side to the tie, which will be a remarkable 50th of his long career, because of his relationship with the Murray brothers. “There’s a little bit of history,” he said, “Andy and I are pretty good friends off the court. Jamie stole a Grand Slam (final of the Australian Open) from me this year that I still haven’t forgotten about. Then he beat me at Rogers Cup. He’s had an amazing year – he won two Grand Slams (Australian and US Opens) – and he’s on the No. 1 team in the world so I’m very jealous of him. That upcoming match is hopefully an opportunity to get back a little bit, and an opportunity for Canada to advance again in the World Group.”

A smiling Nestor, 44, also said he hoped the Ottawa crowd would be “boisterous and obnoxious and rude to our opponents.” He suggested it should be a “Redblacks” kind of crowd.

Canada, along with Argentina, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Switzerland and the USA, are the only nations to have maintained a World Group position over the past six years.

Tickets go on sale this Friday – November 25 – and are available at TDPlace.ca, by phone at 1-877-489-2849 and in person at the TD Place Ticket office on Bank Street in Ottawa.

A wee young lad

This BBC report on a 14-year-old Andy Murray has become more prescient with each passing week this fall.

Laid-back vacation


The British billionaire Richard Branson is a tennis fan and every year invites tennis folk to his secluded resort at Necker Island in the Caribbean. In the picture above, taken last week, are Caroline Wozniacki at about 8:30, Nicole Gibbs at 10 o’clock and Grigor Dimitrov at 11:30.

A straight-up coin toss

It takes a rare skill to flip a coin and have it come up neither heads nor tails.

From the vault

Click to enlarge

Wayne and Janet Gretzky, here in June 1988, have always been keen on tennis. These days their youngest daughter Emma, 13, is an enthusiastic player.  

Top photo: ATPWorldTour.com/Peter Staples