Win Or Lose, Raonic Is Happy To Be Part Of The Canadian Davis Cup Experience, Again

Milos Raonic (photo: Martin Sidorjak)

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Canada’s Milos Raonic started his Davis Cup Final 8 quarterfinal tie with Patrick Kaukovalta of Finland by serving four straight booming aces, including the third one coming on a 131-miles-per-hour second serve. Talk about making a big statement right from the first ball to the last one.

So, just exactly what is the secret to Raonic’s massive serve?

“Hit it hard and hit it close to the line,” he confessed, smiling.

By the end of Raonic’s 67-minute, 6-3, 7-5 victory over the 781st-ranked Kaukovalta, which lifted the Canadians to their best possible start with a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 knockout quarterfinal tie with the Finns, the 318th-ranked native of Montenegro who moved to Canada at age 3, had served 18 aces, won 97 percent (33 of 34) first-serve points and hit 16 winners. He outpointed his opponent 65-42.

Unfortunately, it would be Canada’s only point against Finland. The Finns rallied for a 2-1 tie victory by winning the remaining singles and doubles matches. Finland’s Otto Virtanen defeated Gabriel Diallo, 6-4, 7-5. Then, Virtanen teamed with Harri Heliovaara to beat Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil, 7-5, 6-3, which eliminated the defending champion Canadians.

Raonic, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2010, has returned to the Canadian team for the first time since Canada’s 2018 World Group Playoff victory against Netherlands, when he defeated Thiemo de Bakker and Scott Griekspoor in the first and fourth matches of the tie.

The 35-year-old Raonic has won 17 of the 22 Davis Cup singles matches he has played, and his win over Kaukovalta equaled Sebastian Lareau’s record for the most Davis Cup singles matches won by a Canadian.

Raonic was asked during an on-court interview after his victory just how good it felt to represent Team Canada for the first time in five years. He said: “It was an incredible feeling, incredible whole week coming here early, being with the team and being part of that atmosphere.

“I’ve missed a lot of things with tennis, missed a lot of tennis over the past few years. I got to do the individual thing at the beginning of the year, got to play in Canada, which was amazing. To get to do this again is an incredible honor, especially on the heels of success we’ve had with the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup we’ve had over the past 12 months.

“If I play a match every month and a half, maybe I can hold it together,” Raonic quipped after winning his fifth match of the season in just his ninth outing. “I’m happy with the work I’ve put in, I’ve played nine matches throughout this year. I’ve put in a lot more time and effort. Two years of being away – 15 months of not hitting a ball – takes a lot time for it to come together like this. It makes those miserable moments and those moments of doubt a lot more enjoyable, a lot more fun. You tend to forget them a lot quicker.”

With 29th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime held out of the Canadian lineup to allow a back injury further time to heal, it’s allowed Raonic an opportunity to step up. “We have a lot of players who can step up and that’s one of the incredible things about Canadian tennis,” he said. “It’s not just a few. It’s a whole group of excellence that has come through. It’s made everybody proud and I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Later, in his post-match press conference, Raonic added: “To be here alongside these guys, contributing and trying to just enjoy it, yeah, you know, you appreciate these moments a lot more once there are not as many of them.”

The field is set for the Next Gen ATP Finals

With the sixth edition of the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM less than a week away –it takes place at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from November 28 to December 2 – the last three of the eight-player field for the 21-and-under event has come into focus.

Alex Michelsen of the United States, Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia and Italy’s and Luca Nardi are the final three qualifiers and will join Arthur Fils of France, Switzerland’s Dominic Stricker, Luca Van Assche of France, Flavio Cobolli of Italy and Jordanian wild card Abdullah Shelbayh, who booked their spots earlier this month.

The American Michelsen, just 19, has enjoyed a standout year, in which he has won three ATP Challenger Tour titles and advanced to his first tour-level final in Newport. He broke into the Top 100 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings earlier in November, after turning professional in July, and is currently ranked No. 94. In all competitions this season, he’s 61-24.

Jannik Sinner: Embracing the Carota Boys

The Carota Boys are among the most unique fans in tennis – perhaps, in all of sports. They are Jannik Sinner‘s carrot-clad superfans – with more than 65,000 Instagram followers – and the Carota Boys were quite noticeable last week during the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. They are a group of six Italian boyhood friends who came up with the idea of dressing up as carrots after seeing Sinner eating carrot sticks during a changeover of a 2019 match in Vienna.

“For us, it’s an iconic scene,” Alessandro Dedomincini told Tennis TV.

What does Sinner think of the Carota Boys? He was asked last week during one of his Turin press conferences.

“I think it’s nice that they build or made this fan base in one way,” Sinner expressed. “It’s personalized fans, so it’s good to have them.

“I’m also happy for them because they feeling like they are growing also as a group. I talk to them. They are friends when they were three years old or four years old. They have grown up together when they were young. I think that’s more important, that they are good friends together, they know each other really well.”

Sinner, who said he got to know the Carota Boys recently, admitted it’s important for him to know these kinds of people. “They have a good impact to the Italian crowd. I think they makes things also a little bit funnier in one way. So, it’s good,” he said.

“Here, there are so many thousands of fans in the stadium, so I’m not looking where they are because I feel like the atmosphere has been awesome throughout the whole week with all the other people. It’s nice.

“For sure, when you travel and you go, like, for example this year New York, you can see them in the stadium because they are a little bit different. Let’s see what connection we have also in the future.”

Angelique Kerber: Set to return to WTA Tour in 2024

Germany’s top women’s player, Angelique Kerber, recently announced she will return to the WTA Tour at the United Cup in Sydney, Australia on December 30.

The 35-year-old native of Bremen has been off-tour since competing at Wimbledon in 2022, first while recovering from injury and later while taking time off to have a baby. Her daughter, Liana, was born in February. After being away from the sport for 18 months – she will be unranked when she returns – has reunited with her long-time coach Torben Beltz.

In a recent interview with Porsche Newsroom, the three-time major champion and Porsche Brand Ambassador said her comeback is the biggest challenge of her career.

“I definitely missed the competition,” Kerber admitted. “Facing the top players and playing the big matches is the reason why I want to come back to the Tour. I love the sport. I was still on court hitting balls at my academy three, four days before giving birth.

“My goal is to be ready for the first match when we fly to Australia right after Christmas.”

Kerber said she has followed the WTA Tour during her time off. “Of course, I’ve always kept up to date,” she said. “Alongside players at the very top like Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff has particularly impressed me. She’s played great tournaments time and time again for a while now, but the fact she’s now already won the US Open at the age of only 18 is however a little bit of a surprise.”

While Kerber had mounted comebacks before, this time she admits it’s her biggest challenge.

“This time it’s definitely a different kind of comeback,” she said. “If you don’t play well, lose matches and as a consequence fall into a big hole, then you continue to practice and know how to get out of the low. These days it’s a completely different and much more difficult task. Kicking off again at the United Cup after a one-and-a-half-year break and then having your first Grand Slam two weeks later is a huge challenge.”

When Kerber was asked what motivates her to work so hard on her comeback, she replied: “The love for the sport is my biggest motivation. It’ll never go away. Added to that is the challenge of returning to the big tennis stage and giving it my all once again. I will face the world’s top players and show the fans my best tennis. However, I’m also realistic. It’s a long way back and I’m just at the beginning.”

Frances Tiafoe: Holiday on ice and the tennis court 

American Frances Tiafoe, a native of Hyattsville, Md., near Washington, D.C., is  home for the Thanksgiving holidays. The World No. 16, who has been working out at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., spent a part of his Tuesday as a guest of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, and shared some of his tennis skills on ice at the team’s practice at MedStar Capitals Ceplexmin Arlington, Va.

By the numbers

When the end of the season WTA Rankings were released last week, six players remained in the year-end Top 10 from last year: Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari. Meanwhile, Barbora Krejcikova is back in the Top 10 after a year’s absence, and Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova finished the season ranked in the Top 10 for the first time.

“Quotable …”

“I have definitely never played against anyone with that kind of serve. I had no read for it at any point of the match. I was struggling to really get a grip on it. Even the second serves were very tough to read. I tried some different things, but it seemed that every time I tried something new, then he switched it up quickly. Made my returns very difficult.”

Patrick Kaukovalta of Finland, during his post-match press conference, describing what it was like trying to return Milos Raonic’s serves. (Raonic served 18 aces.)