It was a jour ferié (national holiday) in France on Tuesday but Milos Raonic was hard at work earning a confidence-building 7-6(5), 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta on “la Toussaint” – literally “all saints” day.

Paris was sunny and beautiful as is evident in the photo at the top looking down from Trocadero toward the Eiffel Tower. But things didn’t look that great for Raonic in the early going at the BNP Paribas Masters with his ongoing problems with his right ankle seeming to affect his movement at times. But he got better as the match went on and key was winning the first-set tiebreak after both players held serve throughout without either facing a break point.

The tiebreak swung at 5-5 when Raonic got a mini-break with a big forehand down-the-line that Carreno Busta couldn’t control enough to get the ball back over the net.

A 196 km/hr ace on the next point and Raonic had wrapped up the first set.


It was one of the most spare support groups of the year in Raonic’s courtside seats – just coach Carlos Moya, fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola and physio Claudio Zimaglia. They looked apprehensive at times in the first set when the Raonic return of serve went through a couple of wayward patches. But they lightened up in the second set as their man capitalized on his only break point of the match when Carreno Busta misfired with a drop shot attempt and then blasted a ball into the crowd in frustration after he fell behind 3-2.

“It’s an important match for me, to continue in this tournament,” Raonic said. “I didn’t play well last week (a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 loss to No. 91-ranked qualifier Ricardas Berankis in Basel). So coming back from a slight injury the focus today was really putting in a good attitude, being positive out on court and hopefully my tennis would figure itself out. In a few key moments it did that today.”

Those moments were often on his serve and his big weapon got him out of trouble – a couple of love-30 games – when he needed it. He began the match with 224 km/hr ace and it was definitely a good day at the line for the 2014 Paris indoor runner-up. He had 17 aces, won a remarkable 98 per cent of first serve points and 60 per cent of second-serve points.

The No. 32-ranked Carreno Busta has won two tournaments on hard courts in recent months – Winston Salem and Moscow – so he’s not exactly a typical Spanish clay-courter. But facing Raonic, on a good serving day for the Canadian, he was only able to win 12 per cent of service return points.

“I haven’t served that well this summer, this hard-court swing, so we’ve spent a little more time paying attention on it these days,” Raonic said, “and obviously these court conditions help as well.”

As for the ligament tear in his right ankle that he will have to deal with for the rest of the season, Raonic said, “the ankle’s improving. I still have it wrapped up for safety measures, it can’t get worse. But it’s not really causing any nuisance throughout a match.”


Regarding the small strip of tape behind his left knee, he said, “it was just a compensation of a muscle getting tight. I guess some magical tape is supposed to release it.”

Now ranked No. 5 and assured of a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals in London in two weeks, Raonic had a match record of only 10-6 since Wimbledon coming into the BNP Paribas Masters.

Asked if he might be looking ahead to London and saving himself for the big year-end finale, Raonic answered bluntly, “I need to go flat out because I’ve struggled for the better part of a couple of months, whether that be struggling because I haven’t played well, physically or various things. I wasn’t mentally at my best last week (in Basel) and that was a specific objective this week because there’s no way you’re working your way into it in two weeks. You’ve got to play against the top players right from the beginning so it’s about putting in those gritty moments here. That sort of leads into that.”


Raonic will now face either No. 16 seed Pablo Cuevas or No. 39-ranked Paolo Lorenzi. “I played Lorenzi (6-2, 6-4 in the opening round in Shanghai) recently,” Raonic said. “Pablo I haven’t played for a while (a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory in Monte Carlo in April). In these conditions I feel I can sort of gun my way with anybody. It’s going to be important for me to dictate against either guy. Hopefully I can play a good match, serve like I did today, or something of that sort, and continue to improve on other things like I did throughout the match today.”

Nestor, Pospisil in doubles


Daniel Nestor and partner Rohan Bopanna will play their opening-round doubles on Wednesday in the evening on Court 2 – pictured above during a Ryan Harrison – Taylor Fritz qualifying match on the weekend. The No. 8 seeds will face Frenchmen Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-5, 3-6, [10-7] winners over compatriots Jonathan Eysseric and Tristan Lamasine on Tuesday.

Vasek Pospisil and partner Marcelo Melo will start off Thursday against Dominic Thiem and Philipp Kohlschreiber who defeated Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-1, 7-5 on Tuesday. Pospisil and Melo, who finished at No. 1 in the doubles rankings last year, are seeded 6th. The Brazilian usually plays with Ivan Dodig of Croatia.

Monfils free flow


Gael Monfils, the current world No. 7, held an extraordinary media conference at the BNP Paribas Masters on Monday night that lasted a full hour. Rapt French journalists listened as he tried to clear up confusion and rumours about the injuries and illness he has had this year.

With French Tennis Federation’s Dr. Bernard Montalvan seated beside him, he explained that the virus that prevented him from playing the French Open in May was serious but, while Montalvan confirmed it was never exactly identified, he eventually got over it although he still wasn’t 100 per cent when he played Wimbledon.

Then there were Davis Cup ties in July (the virus) in Trinec, Czech Republic and in Zadar, Croatia (knee), in September that he missed. The latter being controversial because there was an exaggerated story about him hurting the knee on some stairs. As well, once it was determined he could not play, captain Yannick Noah sent him home rather than allowing him to remain in Zadar with the team.

All seems to be okay with Noah now but Monfils was not able to play this week’s BNP Paribas Masters because of a rib injury. Having qualified for the first time for the ATP World Tour Finals in London in two weeks, he said he’s optimistic he will be fit enough to play because, he claims, he’s a fast healer.

Monfils went on to tell a story about his mother’s reaction to him making the elite eight for London. “When I qualified,” he said, “my mother called me and said something that touched me. She said, ‘it’s incredible. I never thought you would be able to play the Masters in your life.’

“I think it’s the first time she really realizes what’s happening. She said, ‘I never thought you were going to be a tennis player.’ (Laughter among reporters)

“You’re laughing, but from where I started from, we’ve known each other for a long time. So my mother, when she sees what the Masters represents – it’s like winning Roland Garros for her.

“It’s incredible. When I was young I said I wanted to be a tennis player and we were living in the 19th arrondissement (in Paris) and there were no tennis clubs. There were only soccer clubs. Now she sees me in the Masters, well, she was really touched.”


Monfils has had his best season. Starting at No. 24, he has reached No. 7 (tying a career-high from 2011). He won the title in Washington, reached finals in Monte Carlo and Rotterdam, semifinals at Rogers Cup (Toronto), the US Open and the Japan Open as well as quarter-finals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.

Talking about the 2016 season, the 30-year-old Monfils said, “this year I was more consistent, and people who criticized me were saying, ‘you see, you can do it.’

“Well, yes and no. Now I’m able to do it because I’ve understood many things, because I’m working differently, because I’ve changed.

“Before, when I was younger and living differently, I was always told I had talent. And I thought about it, talent, talent. My talent is often seen as my physical ability.

“But it’s not only that. I had to change my life in accord with my sport. So maybe I had athletic qualities. Maybe a bit better than an average guy, but I think there are other players that feel the game better, that hit the ball better.

“A few years ago, when I was younger, I wasn’t able to volley. But I worked on it. People were saying, ‘move forward, step into the court.’ But I couldn’t because I didn’t see the game like that. I was not coordinated enough.

“My coordination didn’t help me move forward. I think people thought I was strong because physically I was strong. But in tennis I was not that strong. I learned a lot. I’ve improved a lot. And this is why I can put the two things together now.”

Many people will remember Monfils’ strange match against Novak Djokovic in this year’s US Open semi-finals. The following comment about playing top-10 players helps explain that oddly ‘rope-a-dope’ display against the world No. 1. “The top-10 players are a lot better,” he said. “But I always thought I was close to them, I never thought I was far off except with Novak. Maybe I have a psychological block when I play Novak. Maybe I believe it’s so difficult. But we’re working on that.

“As for the other top-10 players, I didn’t feel I was that far off. I had match points (five vs. Nishikori in Miami). Against Milos I lost in four sets once (Australian Open but also in Indian Wells) and I beat him once (Rogers Cup). Against Rafa, I played an incredible match (losing final 7-5, 5-7, 6-0) in Monte-Carlo.”

Outside the box in Paris

outdoor parisThe BNP Paribas Masters is always looking to improve – especially in terms of facilities for the players. A new addition last year, and expanded even more this year, has been a large practice ‘bubble’ outside the AccorHotels Arena.

Besides the 15,000-seat main stadium, there are also two ‘subterranean’ courts in the AccorHotels Arena complex where both singles and doubles matches are played during the tournament.


This is what it looks like inside of the bubble – that’s Carlos Moya and Milos Raonic practising on the right side – which also includes a fitness area.

From the vault

Click to enlarge

Since this blog is coming from Paris, here’s an item from after the French Open in June, 1987. Canadian Brian Pocknell used to be a fixture as a linesman at Roland Garros – and very photogenic one at that!

NOTE: Tebbutt Tuesday returns on Thursday for Raonic’s third-round match.