As great as the final days of Wimbledon were for Canadian tennis a year ago  – Saturday (Genie Bouchard is the women’s runner-up and Vasek Pospisil wins the men’s doubles) and Friday (Milos Raonic loses in the semifinals to Federer) – last Friday in Madrid was among the darkest of days in the sport for the country.

Vasek Pospisil went down with a serious ankle sprain while he and Jack Sock were leading their doubles quarter-final 6-2, 1-0 and, though he played well in a 6-4, 7-5 quarter-final loss to eventual champion Andy Murray, Milos Raonic was moving in obvious pain and subsequently pulled out of this week’s Masters 1000 in Rome. A day later, he revealed he will have surgery this week on a pinched nerve in his right foot.

As dire as all that sounds, it’s better to take a ‘glass half-full’ approach to this bad news. And it’s certainly preferable this happened now and not at Wimbledon next month. Best-case scenario – there’s a chance Raonic and/or Pospisil could be ready for Roland Garros in two weeks but certainly, if not, for the grass-court season.

The worst-case scenario would be if it did indeed happen at Wimbledon – probably the preferred Grand Slam of Raonic and Pospisil, as well as Bouchard.

On top of that, Canada is playing its Davis Cup World Group quarter-final in Ostend, Belgium, the weekend (July 17-19) immediately following Wimbledon. If for some reason Raonic and Pospisil weren’t available, it would be a huge ask for the remaining Canadian players to beat Belgium at home on clay with a team featuring No. 21-ranked David Goffin, No. 76 Steve Darcis, No. 96 Ruben Bemelmens and No. 112 Kimmer Coppejans, winner of the 2012 Roland Garros junior boys final over Filip Peliwo.

Vasek Pospisil

The positive way to look at Raonic’s and Pospisil’s recent misfortune is that both will be recovered and a little bit better rested when that hectic three-week stretch between June 29 and July 19 rolls around.

If Canada is able to get past Belgium in the quarter-finals, it will be in line for a home turf semifinal against the winner of the quarter-final between host Argentina and Serbia to be held the same weekend as Canada faces Belgium.

A potential Canada–Serbia semifinal (a re-match of 2013 in Belgrade) – on the weekend of September 18-20 (five days after the US Open ends) – would be the most important Davis Cup tie ever staged in this country. Although the same would also apply vs. Argentina.

No. 4 for Milos

Milos Raonic
Photo: Mauricio Paiz

When the numbers were crunched at the ATP headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Florida, on Sunday, Milos Raonic emerged as the No. 4 player in the latest Emirates ATP Rankings released on Monday.

That’s not only a personal high for Raonic, it’s also a high world ranking for a Canadian – beating out Genie Bouchard who reached No. 5 in the WTA rankings in October of last year.

Here’s how this week’s Top 10 lines up:

1.     Djokovic     13,845

2.     Federer         8,645

3.     Murray         7,130

4.     Raonic          5,160

5.     Berdych        5,140

6.     Nishikori      5,040

7.     Nadal            4,990

8.     Ferrer            4,310

9.     Wawrinka     3,575

10.  Cilic             3,360

Raonic’s largest chunks of points come from a semifinal at Wimbledon (720), a runner-up at Paris-Bercy (600), winning Washington (500) and five 360-pointers (quarter-finals at the French and Australian Opens, and semifinals in Cincinnati, Indian Wells and Rome).

The latter result from last year’s Italian Open will be deducted from next week’s rankings and replaced with a ‘0-pointer’ because Raonic is out of action this week undergoing surgery for the pinched nerve in his right foot.

It’s an issue that he says has bothered him for several years. The two main instances when it really affected him were when he was hurting and required a pain-killing injection before playing Roger Federer in the 2013 Australian Open round-of-16 and last year at the ATP World Tour Finals in London when he had to withdraw from his final round-robin match against Kei Nishikori.

No matter how they fare in Rome, Tomas Berdych and Nishikori will move back ahead of Raonic in the rankings next week. Whether this week’s No. 4 falls below No. 6 to as low as No. 8 will depend on how Nadal (he must win outright) and Ferrer (he needs to reach the final) do in Rome.

Whither Rafa?

Rafael Nadal
Photo: Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

The Rafa riddle: what’s going on with the nine-time French Open champion after his humbling 6-3, 6-2 loss to Andy Murray in Sunday’s final of the Mutua Madrid Open?

It appeared following a 7-6(3), 6-1 victory over Tomas Berdych in Saturday’s semifinals that the 28-year-old Majorcan was approaching his best form. But against Murray he was far from his best – in fact he was distressingly bad.

The final two points of the match were totally botched service returns. In the words of Murray: “the last game, for example, the last two service returns of the match – one he missed long by three or four metres, and the next one he hit right into the bottom of the net. That, for him, is unusual.”

It was a bit like one of the three match points he failed to convert against Milos Raonic in a loss at Indian Wells in March when he more or less dribbled a service return into the net.

It’s obviously a case of nerves. That was most obvious on his backhand side. “I will play better with my backhand,” he vowed after losing to Murray, “I don’t have doubt of that. I was able to play more relaxed this week again. Today, starting that bad, I was playing a little bit more nervous again. But I fought and played with the right attitude. And I accept that it was not my day.”

Moving forward, he added, “no time to be negative now. It is time to be strong, positive and to fight for what’s going on…what’s going on is Rome next week.”

Seeded No. 4 in Rome, he will start out against No. 87-ranked Marsel Ilhan of Turkey, a 27-year-old who is 0-3 in his career against Top 10 opponents.

Then it could be John Isner or Leonardo Mayer and possibly Stan Wawrinka or Gilles Simon in the quarter-finals, with longtime rival Roger Federer, seeded No. 2, slated to meet him in the semifinals.

Rafa Nadal

A right wrist injury kept Nadal out of action for three months after Wimbledon last year and an appendicitis problem and ensuing surgery reduced the rest of his season to three unremarkable tournaments.

In 2015, his match record is 23-8 and he has dropped out of the ATP Top 5 for the first time since May 2, 2005. There has been one tournament title, in Buenos Aires on clay in February, but there have also been unlikely loses – to Michael Berrer (Doha), Fabio Fognini twice (Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona on clay) and Fernando Verdasco (Miami).

On June 3, one of the men’s quarter-finals day at Roland Garros, he will turn 29. It’s interesting to compare him with Federer, who is basically five years his senior. Since turning 29, Federer has only won one (out of his last 20) Grand Slams – Wimbledon in 2012.

Is it possible Nadal will have a similar fate?

As solid as Murray played – and his backhand, particularly cross-court, was immaculate against Nadal as well as against Kei Nishikori in the semifinals – Nadal’s elementary errors in the Madrid final were mystifying.

His current form makes the 2015 French Open the most ‘open’ in recent years, unless he rights the ship and wins in Rome this week. It’s clearly world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam to lose. But the aura of Nadal looms ever large in Paris and that could be as hard to overcome as the nitty-gritty of his nastily-spun forehand.

Giving matrimony a good name

Following his 6-3, 6-2 win over Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final on Sunday, Andy Murray signed the courtside television camera lens. Now at 9-0 since his wedding on April 18, he’s clearly at ease with his status as a married man.

Cheeky Coke ad

Genie Coke ad
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its iconic bottle, Coca-Cola has launched an ad campaign drawing on celebrities – past and present – whom the bottle has ‘kissed’ (embrasser in French).

Among the legendary figures Coke bottles have ‘kissed’ are Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. Genie Bouchard is featured in the Quebec campaign. The picture here is of a sign atop a taxi taken by a friend of Tebbutt Tuesday during a recent visit to Montreal.