If January’s Australian Open was the announcement of two young up and coming Canadians, Milos Raonic and Rebecca Marino, then February was their proper arrival to the big leagues. Both turned the country’s sports fans on their ear. For the first time in years, Canadians not normally interested in tennis had their gaze fixed on the sport, and tennis fans had their gaze fixed on the country.
For Raonic, it was a whirlwind of a month that he is likely still reflecting on. In Johannesburg, he won the two required matches to qualify for the main draw, where he would go on to defeat second seed Yen-Hsun Lu before bowing out to Simon Greul in the second round. From there, he travelled to Memphis and rode a wave of confidence. He defeated fourth seed Malisse in the first round, then James Blake andRichardÂ Berankis. He made his first ATP Tour level final after receiving a walkover from Gael Monfils, and defeated number one seed Fernando Verdasco 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Milos did not drop a set the entire week.
With the win, Raonic had captured the attention of this fine, hockey crazed nation. He was the feature of an exclusive, one on one interview on one of Canada’s premier sports networks, Sportsnet, and the final was also shown nation-wide on the same channel. However, he was not done there, and the momentum would continue to build.
Raonic then travelled to Memphis and kept the winning streak alive. He drew an unlikely and unlucky Fernando Verdasco, who he would defeat again, this time in three sets. It was a trying run to the final this time, as the Canadian needed 3 sets to get past Radek Stepanek, Robert Kendrick, and Mardy Fish. By now, we all know the result of his second straight final, which came against Andy Roddick. Three sets, once again, and a 7-6(7), 6-7(11), 7-5 win to the American, winning on one of the most thrilling match points in recent memory. Roddick was gracious in his victory, however, and had nothing but praise for the young Canadian’s game and future. The following day, Raonic not only rose to a career high rank of 37, but he also became the highest ever ranked Candian male in singles. After two weeks and nine matches, Raonic withdrew from the event in Acapulco, Mexico, but travelled there regardless, as he will compete there as part of the Canadian team in Davis Cup next weekend.
Somewhat lost in the amazing achievements of Raonic’s runs to the final was fellow Canadian and 20 year old Rebecca Marino’s first WTA tour level final in Memphis. She lost just two sets in four matches as she picked opponents apart with impressive power from both wings. Unfortunately, she was forced to retire to Magdalena Rybarikova in the final after dropped the first set 6-2 due to an abdominal injury. Regardless, it was an impressive week for the Canadian who continues to improve and impress, and has reached a career high rank of 60th and is now the highest ranked Canadian female on the WTA tour in singles.
Marino also took part in Canada’s World Group II Fed Cup tie against Serbia, which was also the simultaneous return of Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak from injury. Unfortunately for Marino and the Canadians, they ran into another impressive young gun, big hitting Serbian Bojana Jovanovski, who won both of her singles matches against Marino and Wozniak, as well as the deciding doubles rubber with partner Aleksandra Krunic against the Canadian team of Sharon Fichman and Mary-Eve Pelletier.
Not to be forgotten in the hype of the Canadian youngsters is doubles powerhouse veteran Daniel Nestor. Nestor and his new partner in 2011, Max Miryni continued to improve after an impressive Australian Open semifinal run. They won Memphis, the only tournament they played in February, defeating the team of Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer in the final.
Long time Canadian number one Frank Dancevic has had a great start to 2011 after a difficult 2010. He had a strong showing in Johannesburg, defeating Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round and making the quarterfinals, where he would lose to Adrian Mannarino. His only other tournament in February was in Delray Beach, where he lost in the final round of qualifying to Alejandro Falla.
Lastly, promising young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard won her first ITF title, a $25,000 level event, in Burnie, Australia. She just turned 17 this past month, on February 25th.
Brodie McPhee is the author of the tennis web site Mind the Racket. Each month he’ll update readers on the tennis happenings in his homeland.