By Dave Gertler
(July 31, 2014) WASHINGTON, DC – Last year’s Citi Open in Washington, D.C. played a crucial role in the lead-up to what would be Milos Raonic’s first appearance in a Masters 1000 final. At the time, he was still ranked outside the top 10, had never made it past the round of 16 at a major, and promptly bowed out to Australian journeyman Marinko Matosevic in the second round.
“I didn’t play well here last year,” said Raonic of his reasoning for returning to this year’s event, “And I really would not have wanted to start off Montreal that way. So I think even though I had a poor result last year, it helped me a lot with the result in Montreal. I think it’s a positive for me to come and play here.”
The Montenegro-born Canadian earned his first single-figure ranking in March and, given his transposition to a higher echelon of men’s tennis this year, is now within striking distance of the top 5, especially considering the rest of the year will play out on his favorite surface – hard courts – and in his home continent of North America.
“After spending four months of playing tennis where I’m adjusting to figure out the surface,” said Raonic about his transition to the hard courts of the Emirates US Open Series, “It’s a surface I come to and I don’t have to worry about – ‘OK, in this situation, I gotta hit this shot’ – I have that stuff sort of ingrained in myself naturally.”
In his first match in D.C. last night, Raonic served 16 aces against Jack Sock on his way to a straight-sets win over the American. In a match characterized by the consistency that has helped the Canadian to five career ATP 250 titles, the 23-year-old Canadian served an even eight aces in both sets, and only allowed his opponent three points in each of the tie-breaks they played.
In their third round match tonight, Raonic will face a significant obstacle in the form of Lleyton Hewitt, who as well as winning their only meeting so far, is also the tournament’s last remaining former champion. A lot has changed since their 2012 meeting at the Australian Open, including Raonic reaching the semi-final of the most recent slam.
While the No.2 seed seems to have shifted his focus towards winning majors, he has not made the final of any tournament since September 2013, something Hewitt has done twice, winning both times and bringing his overall career tally to 30. While Hewitt’s slam-winning days are arguably behind him, the Canadian is focused on his own upward career trajectory, and the opportunity to go deeper in the next slam. “I can do much better than I did at Wimbledon,” said Raonic, “And that doesn’t put me far away from giving myself an opportunity to win that tournament.”
In other men’s round of 16 matches at the Citi Open today, Vasek Pospisil takes on top seed Tomas Berdych while American Donald Young plays Denis Istomin.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .