Rain showers were in the forecast for Friday’s action at the Rogers Cup, but it took nothing away from the sunny outlook for Canadian men’s tennis, as both Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont. and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver were looking to earn places in the semi-finals of an ATP Masters 1000 tour event for the first time in their respective careers.
Tournament organizers had Pospisil going out first at noon on Centre Court, playing a match against Russia’s Nikolai Davydenko, which might be considered a disadvantage considering how much tennis Pospisil has played of late. Pospisil won a Challenger event in Vancouver last weekend and had to take an overnight red-eye flight to get here for his first-round match.
Since Tuesday, he’s played every day – and included in his run to the quarters were two marathon three-set victories over the world’s No. 20th ranked player John Isner of the United States and then No. 5 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
On recent form, Pospisil would enter the match against Davydenko as the slight favourite, but there is no way of knowing how much energy is left in the legs. But Pospisil also understood that this was a rare opportunity for him to rack up valuable ATP ranking points. Currently, he has 696 points in all, which made him the 71st ranked player in the world heading into the tournament.
If he makes it through to the semis he would add another 360, which would vault him comfortably into the top 50. It was why Pospisil didn’t watch Davydenko’s win over unseeded Alex Bogomolov Jr., opting instead for a massage and a proper cool down and relying on his coach’s scouting report to prepare for today’s match.
Pospisil acknowledged that he felt some pain his legs and a couple muscle tweaks here during the win over Berdych.
“The fatigue like got to me a little bit there,” he said. “I kind of lost the plot for a few games.”
Similarly, Raonic was fighting what he described as a “tight and a little bit inflamed neck muscle, pinching a nerve and causing sort of a dead feeling” that required him to take an 11-minute injury timeout in his straight sets victory over Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, the No. 6 seed.
Raonic was scheduled to follow Pospisil onto Centre Court in the second match of the day to play the entertaining but occasionally erratic Latvian shot-maker, Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis advanced to the quarters by defeating two seeded players, No. 13 Fabio Fognini and No. 2 Andy Murray. Raonic is the only seeded player remaining in the bottom half of the draw that has previously also seen David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Gilles Simon bow out.
Form held a little better in the top half, where No. 1 seeded Novak Djokovic fought off a spirited challenge from Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin before winning in three sets late Thursday night. Djokovic’s quarter-final opponent is France’s Richard Gasquet, the No. 7 seed, who eliminated No. 9 Kei Nishikori of Japan in a three-setter as well.
The other quarter-final in the top half pits No. 4 Rafael Nadal against qualifier Marinko Matosevic who has been playing well of late (and eliminated Raonic last week in Washington).
Raonic has had an up-and-down time of it since switching coaches a few months ago, but believes all the work he’s been putting in with Ivan Ljubicic is now paying off.
“I have found a lot of solutions,” said Raonic. “I wouldn't necessarily call them distractions, but there were a lot of things on my mind a certain part of the year. I think I've sort of found peace within all of that. I've been able to focus on my tennis and get that together.”
Raonic played the featured evening match three nights in a row, before switching to days Friday, but said he welcomed the change, even if it meant a quick turnaround.
“Normally for me daytime is better,” he said. “It's normally a quicker situation. It's going to be a little bit different tomorrow. But it's not a situation I feel uncomfortable in.”
As for Pospisil, he wasn’t about to take anything for granted, even if Davydenko doesn’t possess nearly the same sort of weapons as Isner or Berdych, two players he’s already defeated.
“If I'm playing quarter-finals against someone ranked (lower), they're there for a reason,” said Pospisil. “They beat ranked players as well. It's going to be a bit of a lottery.
“Obviously the way I'm playing now, if I can keep on like that, at least I'll give myself an opportunity. There's a chance, for sure. I mean, every match at this level is extremely difficult. So I'll just try to prepare the same way.”