The Rogers Cup is over for Milos Raonic.
For a third straight night, the Canadian World No. 6 played in a tension-filled three-setter before a huge crowd on Centre Court. But this time, he couldn’t get past the squandered break points or missed opportunities. This time Spanish World No. 25 Feliciano Lopez eliminated him, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.
Raonic, who was a Rogers Cup finalist last year, was playing through a wild run, coming right off a title last Sunday in Washington, and gutting through. He found ways to survive despite not being at his best earlier in this week. The luck ran out Friday, and he won’t be the one facing Roger Federer Saturday night.
Before a sold-out crowd at the Rexall Centre, the Spaniard, squandered a pair of break points at 1-1, but began to give everyone in the place the sense that he could make it a frustrating evening for Raonic.
The Canadian suffered several unforced errors at 2-2 and Lopez went up a break, then held serve to go up 4-2. The Spaniard tried to use his soft touch and finesse around the net to move 6-foot-5 Raonic about the court. The native of Thornhill, Ont. wasn’t applying any pressure. He served well, but once the ball was in play, he struggled, and Lopez took the first set.
It had shades of Tuesday’s match when Jack Sock broke the Canadian early in the night, and the tension began to mount. Raonic had overcome the first-set loss to Sock, and then survived a long three-setter to eliminate Julien Benneteau too. The crowd had seen this before, and surely Raonic could wiggle out of it again.
Then again, the left-handed Lopez had rallied from down a set the night before to upset World No.4 Tomas Berdych. He was no stranger to adversity either.
To the second set they went. Lopez, some eight years his senior, had made a good connection with the young Canadian a few years ago when the emerging star began training in Barcelona under then-coach Galo Blanco. Lopez was a guy who spoke good English and welcomed him. There, practicing alongside Spanish players in the close-knit Barcelona tennis circles, the Canadian had begun his rise.
The set went to a tie-breaker, where Raonic has been an absolute sure thing recently. He won his third tie-breaker of the week, his remarkable ninth straight dating back to Wimbledon.
Toronto hadn’t even seen his best tennis yet this week. Fans were still enjoying their get-to-know-you period with this ever-growing hometown star they see ever so rarely on Canadian soil. Each time he visits, his ranking is higher, his skill is better, his list of accomplishments bigger. They had enjoyed marveling at his impressive stature up close as they bellow up to the fence at his practice sessions. They steadied their smartphones on Raonic, approached him with oversized yellow tennis balls and Sharpie markers. The crowds to see him were swelling as the week grew on.
Tension built in the deciding set. Raonic had nine break points in one game but could not manage to break the Spaniard. Neither player could ever recall experiencing that many break points in one game before. The set fell out of his hands and the full house quieted.
“I just need to show in a few situations more courage and go for a little bit more, not just that third set but all throughout the match,” said Raonic. “I just felt like I never let it go through or impose myself, and I think that's what cost me over time.”
With many of the top seeds dropping off early, one survived. World No. 3 Roger Federer outlasted David Ferrer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and will face Lopez on Saturday. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga upset Andy Murray to book his spot, and he will face Grigor Dmitrov, who advanced by beating Kevin Anderson.
Raonic had a favourable draw, and many might have pencilled the 23-year-old in for a potential Saturday night matchup between Raonic and 17-time Grand Slam champ on Saturday night as the week wore on. It won’t happen this year.
Raonic will play next in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati starting next week, a tune-up tournament for the U.S Open at the end of this month.
“I can play much better tennis,” said Raonic. “The goal has always been get better each week to be playing my best tennis in New York…Cincinnati is the next step to getting better.”