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The Faceoff – Raonic overpowers Sampras in 'Hero vs. Prodigy' Special

By Aman Dhanoa     Nov 18, 2011 in Sports
Toronto - On Thursday night, rising Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic took to the court against his idol Pete Sampras in a an exhibition event called “The Faceoff – Hero vs. Prodigy.”
Despite being twice Raonic’s age and retiring nearly a decade ago, Sampras demonstrated that he still has the skills and pushed the 20-year-old to a tiebreak in the first set. Then Raonic pulled away to win the second set easily for a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner had seen Raonic play a few times on the ATP Tour and knew that the youngster had a powerful serve. But after playing a match, he was able to see experience for himself just how good Raonic’s game is.
“I was really impressed with his game,” said Sampras after the match. “I had a few chances in the first set, a couple of free ball points but I didn’t get them. The second set he was too good, he was picking his spots, returned great.”
Raonic, who looked to be in awe and living a dream, tried to put the experience to words.
“It’s an amazing experience for me,” said Raonic. “It’s still going to take a few days to settle in, but I would like to thank him for being my idol. Even though the big age difference and everything, he made time in his schedule to please a kid.
“This doesn’t change any of that. I’ll still look up to him more than ever. He’s really got a lot of class and you can learn so many things from him and that’s just what I’m trying to do.”
Raonic approached Sampras to put on the event to not only live out his own dream, but to increase the spotlight on tennis in Canada, to not only the die-hard supporters but also to the casual fan.
“There’s a lot this moment brings - it’s just not for myself a great experience and to learn but also for Canadian tennis,” said Raonic. “Events like this is only going to help tennis grow and that’s the goal at the end of the day. We hope it’s a stepping stone and things just get bigger, better and becomes an annual thing that’s look forward to years in advance.”
Although tennis is often overlooked in Canada, Raonic believes tennis is growing in the country and that success from Canadian professionals like him will ultimately bring more attention and fans to the game.
“It’s getting there for sure…it’s really grown,” added Raonic. “I think there’s space for it and fortunately people have been receptive about it…It’s not just myself, but everybody. Canadian tennis – the girls or the guys as everybody gets up the rankings it’s just going to give it more and more buzz.
“It’s just going to get better, not just for this generation but it’s also going to feed into other generations just helping kids believe more, getting them motivation, hoping they get better and hoping it gets better through each generation, so there’s more Canadians in top echelons of tennis.”
Pulling Away
Fans look on as Raonic is unable to return a shot from Sampras
Fans look on as Raonic is unable to return a shot from Sampras
Kanishka Sonnadara
Over 5,000 fans came out to the Air Canada Centre to watch the event that showcased the some of the best in Canadian tennis that not only featured Raonic, but WTA Tour player Alexandra Wozniak and the No. 5 ranked junior in the world Eugenie Bouchard. The evening started with local celebrities taking part in matches followed by mixed doubles and then Bouchard played Wozniak before the marquee match.
The match started out with Sampras joking around with the crowd, but that slowly faded as he and Raonic concentrated on playing the match. At one point, a fan yelled out “Why so serious Pete?”
Sampras turned around and smiled and lobbed a ball right into the fan’s private box as the crowd laughed and cheered.
Sampras showed that he still has a great serve and can hit well-placed shots as Raonic was unable to return or get to his idol’s serves and volleys. Both held serve for the entire first set going back and forth until the “prodigy” won a couple of consecutive points in the tiebreak to win 7-4.
Raonic turned it up a notch in the second set and finally broke Sampras in the second game to go up 2-0. Each held serve for the next three games before the Canadian broke Sampras again to go up 5-1. In the final game Raonic blew his serves past a stunned Sampras and ended the match in fine fashion – with an ace.
“Monstrous Serve”
Raonic began 2011 ranked 156th in the world, but after a breakout year he currently sits at 31. Although Raonic has shown an impressive overall game, it has been his serve that has truly impressed those who watch him play and has left his opponents stunned and overwhelmed.
“He’s got a monstrous serve,” said Sampras. “I saw him play a little bit over the last year and (he) possesses obviously a big serve and second serve. But he can do a lot of different things - he can come in, he can stay back. He’s got a good sense on the game and he can do everything. He’s got a great future.”
“When I look at a young kid I look at a weapon. And when you can serve 135-140 on the line and really pick your spots - that’s a pretty big weapon to have. So he’s on his way. He’s very young, he’s eager and he has a great future.”
Raonic admitted that he patterned his serve after Sampras and how his idol was able to use it to his advantage to get ahead of his opponents.
“For sure it (Sampras’ serve) was a big inspiration for it (my serve). The thing is I knew it would have to be a big part of it, especially seeing how much he was able to dictate and impose his game with that first shot and getting ahead of his opponents,” said Raonic.
“Also the fear it puts in the opponent’s eyes if you do get broken you’re able to close out a set pretty much with your serve. It just puts a lot more pressure on them so it works both ways.”
The Canadian has spent a lot of time working on his serve, but as great as it is, he continues to perfect it everyday.
“Obviously being a big guy helps me but it’s been a lot of hours of work. Many mornings only practicing serves…and it’s still continues to be something I focus on getting better and working on because I know it’s going to be such an important part of my game.”
Since Raonic moved up the rankings so quickly and has entered the top 30 on the ATP Tour, many are expecting big things from the 20-year-old. But Sampras, having been there before himself, preached patience to the media and to not to get carried away.
“What Milos needs right now is experience, he needs matches, he needs to get healthy and stay healthy and it’s unfortunate what happened to him,” said Sampras of Raonic’s injuries in 2011.He’s only 20. He’s very, very young. Let’s be patient here, it takes time to be a champion.
“But being through all the situations with the press don’t expect him to win Wimbledon next year it’s going to take some time. He can do it…let’s not put too much pressure on the kid. He’s got a great game, great future and I wish him all the best.”
Raonic looked nervous as Sampras made those comments and sat shoulder to shoulder with his idol, but responded as student who is quickly learning from a master of the game.
"It’s an amazing feeling but you take it for what it is,” said Raonic of Sampras’ comments. “Take it also as a learning tool in the moment and it's amazing to hear all these comments come from him because it means so much to me.
"But I know at the end of the day, I know that nobody is going to give me anything in the future. I know I’m going to have to keep working for it. I’m hungry as ever to be playing with the top guys and be competing for the big tournaments so I know the work that needs to be done and I’m ready to do it.”
Raonic is now feeling healthy after an injury plagued second half of the 2011 season. He was preparing for the Faceoff, but will now kick start his offseason training and will spend six weeks in Spain before he plays his first tournament in January.
“I’m already heading out to Barcelona on Sunday night and have six weeks offseason,” said Raonic in a press conference before the match. “The health is not an issue at all.”
“Now it’s just a matter of getting fit and strong and getting back to playing tennis at a high level. And trying to get up the rankings and improve each day and the numbers will follow.”
This article was originally published on Oye! Times
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