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article imageOp-Ed: Tennis - Raonic’s Rise Catches Canada by Surprise

By Ben Fisher     Feb 25, 2011 in Sports
Toronto - Contrary to what some recent media coverage would suggest, Milos Raonic’s rise has not breathed life into Canada’s passion for tennis.
In additional to flourishing at the grass roots level as a participant sport in the country, tennis has been a consistent draw as a spectator sport, most notably at the Rogers Cup in both Toronto and Montreal each August.
It has, however, made the nation suddenly relevant on the tennis landscape, a rapid transition that Canadian tennis fans haven’t really had a chance to adjust to.
To be a tennis fan in the Great White North during the 20-year old Raonic’s hot run in the early parts of 2011 is to experience a change in sensibilities from expecting early defeat to believing in the youngster’s ability to win just about any match he plays.
Raonic, after all, was ranked No. 152 in the world just six weeks ago, precisely the type of insignificant, non-impact ranking that has been seemingly forever entwined with the Canadian tennis identity (from a singles standpoint, anyway). Sure, Daniel Nestor’s continued excellence in doubles play has been a point of pride over the past 15 years, but for better or for worse, doubles tennis has simply never been given the same top billing that singles has enjoyed.
Instead, Canadian fans have seen their country represented by players who have rarely found their way out of qualifying draws, let alone enjoying deep tournament runs. Prior to Raonic’s triumph in San Jose, the most recent Canuck to hoist an ATP title was Greg Rusedski 16 years and one nationality change ago for the big serving Brit.
This is no minor mental adjustment to make, especially given how sudden the surge of the Spain-trained Raonic has been. With an underwhelming junior record and no significant pro victories to show, even his 6’5” frame would not have made him particularly recognizable to most Canadian sports fans prior to his round of 16 run at the Australian Open. To hear him discussed by respected commentating authorities like Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe as being a hot young prospect along the lines of the more-hyped Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov was particularly jarring.
Then, before Canadian tennis aficionados had even had an opportunity to digest what they had seen, there was Raonic again, hijacking a pair of American hard court events in which he reeled off nine consecutive victories and won the San Jose title. Wins over elite ATP talents like Fernando Verdasco (twice), Mikhail Youzhny and Mardy Fish – heck, even pushing Andy Roddick to a dramatic three-setter in the Memphis final – are the type of triumphs that Canadian players could expect to enjoy once every five years or so. Now, they seem to be commonplace occurrences with Raonic.
Which is the next adjustment those climbing aboard the Milos bandwagon, complete with its own catchy Seinfeld reference, will have to make. In such a short span of time, Raonic has gone from hardly being guaranteed to beat anyone (he held a 4-7 pro record prior to 2011) to being able to hang in with the best that the ATP has to offer. That means no longer are matches against players like Roddick “good learning experiences”, but are now legitimate opportunities for wins.
For Canadian tennis fans, it means a pride in more than just Nestor’s doubles prowess and the odd player’s ability to make waves on the junior circuit. Raonic’s rise isn’t simply the story of a young talent taking the ATP by storm, it’s the story of an entire country redefining their own stake in a sport thought to be the property of outsiders.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Milos Raonic, Canadian tennis, Daniel Nestor, Tennis
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