The numbers were all in Milos Raonic’s favour when he faced qualifier Jared Donaldson on Thursday night at Rogers Cup. He’s ranked No. 7 to the 19-year-old American’s No. 147 and his record in ATP World Tour matches is 245-112 while Donaldson’s is a modest 7-14.
Those statistics turned out not to be misleading as Raonic took care of business at Aviva Centre, downing Donaldson 6-2, 6-3 in just an hour and 10 minutes.
Raonic faced no break points and Donaldson didn’t reach deuce in any of his opponent’s nine service games.
“I am doing things well,” Raonic said. “I’m going for the shots. I’m taking time away from the other guy – making the guy, from what I can tell, on the other side of the net uncomfortable and not giving him too much rhythm.”
The guy on the other side of the net on Thursday night was clearly over-matched against an in-form Raonic. Donaldson, who interestingly claims his idols are 1960s and 1970s iconic athletes Bill Russell (basketball) and Muhamed Ali (boxing) was in tough against Raonic with the hometown boy in a confident phase. It’s allowing him to impose his game in a manner that often leads to quick, efficient matches.
“It was really difficult,” Donaldson admitted about the task of playing Raonic. “I’d never really played at that level before. I’d practiced with Milos but practice and a match atmosphere was completely different. I just didn’t really have the experience on that stage at that level to play up to his pace.”
After his best result as a pro – qualifying and winning two rounds over No. 67-ranked Aussie John Millman and No. 33 Fabio Fognini, Donaldson said, “I think I can take solace in the fact that even though I think it was a pretty lopsided match, I still did some things that I know will be effective at a higher level. I know what I need to work on for the rest of the year and take this as a learning experience.”
Raonic opened the match with a 235 km/hr (146 mph) serve that won him the first point. Later he explained the rationale for going so big so early: “because I saw that he was going to return from close, I went a little bit harder into the body just to try to make him think about it. Hopefully (it will) make him step back to open up the angles for my serves more.”
The surface at Aviva Centre is apparently quite slick. After his third-round win on Thursday night, top-seed Novak Djokovic described it as “very, very quick.”
As for Raonic, he confirmed that notion saying, “it’s quick. I know that during the days I practiced here the balls are going through the court quite a bit.”
Generally a faster court would favour Raonic with his exceptional power on the serve and the forehand. When he takes on Gael Monfils on Friday evening (second match after 6:30 p.m.) he will have other things in his favour – namely that he has won both times they have played this year – 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Australian Open quarter-finals and 7-5, 6-3 at Indian Wells also in the quarter-finals.
As well, Monfils has played eight matches in 12 days – including five to win the ATP 500 event in Washington last Sunday – and looked pretty cuit (cooked) in the late stages of his grueling two-hour-and-14 minute, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-4 win over No. 11-ranked David Goffin on Thursday. Maybe it’s the confidence from the eight-match winning streak he’s on but he was a bit of a Houdini pulling out the first-set tiebreak after trailing Goffin 4-0.
Looking ahead to the match-up with Raonic, the No. 14-ranked Frenchman didn’t sound convincing when discussing his strategic approach.
Asked about the Australian Open quarter-final in January, he said about facing Raonic, “I learned some things then but I played him right after that at Indian Wells. I went into the match with slightly different tactics and I still didn’t manage to win.”
Specifically about Friday’s encounter, he added, “I’ve learned lots of things but it’s hard to say anything right now and I’ll see if what I learned at Indian Wells will help.”
Monfils, who defeated 6-foot-11 serving terminator Ivo Karlovic in the final of the Washington tournament after saving a match point, was asked if playing Raonic was more frustrating than playing the 37-year-old beanpole Croat. “Sometimes it’s frustrating playing against him (Raonic) too because there are times when he serves really well too,” Monfils said. “But he plays well from the baseline, his movement is better, he has a really big forehand and he holds his own with his backhand. So it’s really different.”
If Raonic can get past Monfils, it should set up a blockbuster semifinal on Saturday night against top seed Djokovic. All Djokovic has to do on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. is beat world No. 8 Tomas Berdych, against whom he holds a pretty ridiculous advantage in their head-to-head – 24-2!
As for Raonic, he’s making no bones about his desire to win Rogers Cup, which would be his first-ever Masters 1000 title – and a lot more. “It’s definitely one of the more significant achievements I’d like to reach,” he said about his hometown event. “It’s not just this tournament but it has a sentimental value through my childhood because it’s the only tournament I attended as a spectator.
“So there is a lot of different sort of folds and wrinkles to the whole story line. Hopefully I can make it count this time around, and it’s what I’m training for. My focus is not anywhere else or any further along to other tournaments coming up other than this tournament at this moment.”
His career record in six Rogers Cup appearances is 10-6. He would have to move that winning number to 13 to be able to hold up the champion’s trophy on Sunday afternoon.
There were some dramatic shots – such the Nick Kyrgios ‘tweener’ above that helped he and partner Jack Sock save a set point late in the first set of Thursday night’s second-round match against Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil – but the match was basically one set and over and the ending was decidedly anticlimactic.
After Nestor and Pospisil won the opening set 7-6(4) and Sock and Kyrgios held to lead 1-0 in the second set, a downpour arrived on Grandstand and the players scattered to the shelter of the locker room.
They never re-emerged because Sock claimed that he had an arm issue and decided to retire. So the final score reads 7-6(4), 0-1 ret. for the No. 6 seeds who now move on to play Berdych and Radek Stepanek, who was Nestor’s partner for the first four months of 2016 including their runner-up finish together at the Australian Open.
Playing former partners has become a bit of a theme at the Rogers Cup event and Pospisil and Sock were facing each other for the first time since they decided to go their separate ways after losing 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-4 to Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the third round at this year’s Wimbledon after holding three match points.
There didn’t appear to be any added animus as the two faced each other on Thursday evening. In fact Pospisil showed commendable sportsmanship on the first point with Nestor serving at 3-all in the first set. After it apparently ended in favour of his side, Pospisil spoke briefly to the umpire who promptly announced, “Mr. Pospisil touched the net and he’s conceding the point.”
Over the course of one set of action, Nestor and Pospisil were the slightly better team, threatening their opponents’ serve more often than the other way around.
If there was a weak link, it was Kyrgios. After the teams exchanged mini-breaks to make it 3-3 in the tiebreak, Pospisil drilled a service return at Kyrgios at the net and he was not properly prepared for the backhand volley and popped wide over the sideline. That second mini-break proved to be the difference but the Aussie also made a backhand error into the net on the ultimate set point.
While Kyrgios and Sock did a lot of joking and smiling with each other during the abbreviated match, there was nothing that could be construed as outside the spirit of the game. Although Kyrgios did kid around a bit (above) in the warm-up – adopting a batter’s pose above to return a Pospisil serve during the warm-up.
At the post-match media conference, Pospisil conceded that it was different playing against his former partner Sock, the man he won the Wimbledon doubles title with in 2014.
“It was a little bit strange, for sure, because it’s the first time we have ever played each other on a doubles court,” Pospisil said. “Any time we stepped on a doubles court, we’re always on the same team.
“It was tough because I thought it was a really high-level match. I know his strengths and weaknesses and he knows mine. It was a little bit like a chess match. It was definitely strange playing against him. I’m not used to that because we have been friends for a few years now.”
Pospisil had high praise for Nestor who has won two of his last four events – and been runner-up at a third – all with three different partners and all on different surfaces – grass, clay and hard court.
The two Davis Cup teammates will play the Rio Olympics together and Pospisil said Thursday night about the man who turns 44 on September 4, “I felt like he played fantastic the whole match today. It was really nice to play alongside somebody like Daniel who honestly I get along so well with and he’s so experienced. Honestly, it might sound kind of strange, but it was actually very enjoyable.”
The media conference included this amusing byplay:
Q. You found out you’re going to the Olympics a couple weeks ago with Vasek. How do you feel? You’re going into your sixth Olympic games? Does it feel surreal knowing it’s your sixth one?
DANIEL NESTOR: Yeah, it’s exciting – to play with Vasek and another opportunity to win a medal. Those things excite me. You know, being 20 years older than everyone else in the game doesn’t excite me and that kind of stuff is a little bit embarrassing at the same time. (Laughter.)
I’m going to make the most of it and we’re going to have fun.
VASEK POSPISIL: It’s an incredible accomplishment to play six Olympic Games.
DANIEL NESTOR: A little bit embarrassing?
VASEK POSPISIL: No. 5% embarrassing, 95% incredible accomplishment.
Philip Bester of Vancouver and Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., had a big win on Tuesday when they beat the Serbian team of Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic. But the Canadian wild card pair was unable to build on that and were ousted 6-4, 7-6(4), by seventh seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Rajeev Ram of the U. S. in second-round action on Thursday
Shamasdin, currently ranked No. 72 should move up well inside the Top 70 with the 90 points he earned from reaching the second round. He and British partner Jonathan Marray plan to play some Challengers in the next few weeks but may not be able to enter the US Open together because of their rankings. Still, Shamasdin, at age 34, has made some interesting progress considering he was No. 117 before he and Marray reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals earlier this month. His career high was No. 55 in April 2015.
Genie Bouchard had thrilled the Rogers Cup crowds in Montreal with her wins over No. 28-ranked Lucie Safarova on Tuesday and No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova on Wednesday. Now ranked No. 42, Bouchard appeared to have a good draw ahead of her when players in her quarter such as Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza pulled out. But despite leading by a set and 4-3, she was beaten 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday night by 26-year-old Kristina Kucova of Slovakia. The No. 121-ranked qualifier deserves props for persevering against the early Bouchard onslaught and for not being intimidated by the partisan crowd.
Afterward Bouchard, who next week heads to Rio for the Olympic Games, was candid in discussing the dynamic of facing a qualifier following matches with two much more highly-rated opponents in her first two rounds. “That’s the classic thing in all sports, the underdog or not, whether you’re expected to win or not,” she said. “I think I can do well in both situations – when I’m expected to win and when I’m the underdog. Obviously this week I had both situations and this time I didn’t do so well kind of being expected to win. I’m disappointed with that.
“But I do think the pressure got to me a little bit, especially being here in Montréal, trying to make quarters.”
Asked if she thought her failure to close out the match was a mental issue, she responded, “I do think so because I feel like I’m playing really good tennis right now. I just felt I maybe panicked a little bit, tried to finish the points too soon. She (Kucova) was getting a lot of balls back. Obviously I was feeling like I wanted to win.
“I think it would have been better if I was just a bit calmer mentally. But it happens and I have to learn how to deal with this.”
Serving a 4-5 in the first-set tiebreak of his match against David Goffin on Thursday, Gael Monfils was distracted by a plane approaching Pearson Airport and paused before serving to let it pass. He had also done the same thing during a previous match this week so there was no sense in any way that the gentlemanly Frenchman was stalling to throw off his opponent.