Holy moly: we have an all-Canadian men’s tennis final in the American capital, on the eve of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Milos Raonic, No. 7 in the world, 23 years old, the chosen one, served his way on Saturday afternoon to the title match of the Citi Open in Washington. Vasek Pospisil, all teeth and massive grin, slogged a tougher road, roughing out the end of his quarterfinal victory early Saturday and then cracked through his semifinal against the world No. 14 Richard Gasquet of France on Saturday night.
These two young men, one appointed for greatness and the other who has ratcheted himself into consideration in the conversation, last faced each other in an epic match one year ago at Rogers Cup in Toronto. Raonic won, barely, and the two both vaulted far higher in the ranks of professional tennis, Raonic breaking through to the global elite, the top 10, a first for a Canadian man, and Pospisil vaulting to No. 40 from No. 71.
On Sunday afternoon, No. 7 Raonic takes on No. 36 Pospisil at 3 p.m. ET - the first time ever two Canadians have met in an ATP final. It will be a firecracker of Canadian tennis, ahead of the country’s showcase tournament. The Citi Open, an ATP 500-level tournament, a rank below Toronto, would be Raonic’s biggest-ever win, after five lesser victories elsewhere. For Pospisil, 24, it would be his first title of any kind on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour.
Raonic’s path to this moment was, to an extent, expected. He was poised. His Rogers Cup final last year, where he quickly lost to Rafael Nadal, put him in the stratosphere, close enough to appreciate how far he still was from the very top.
Pospisil, however, lived the life of an accomplished journeyman, and was wracked by a bad back, only recently cured by Dr. Pavel Kolar of Prague and his “revolutionary diagnostic and treatment approach known as ‘dynamic neuromuscular stabilization.’” Pospisil, with partner American Jack Sock, won doubles at Wimbledon a month ago and has been feeling pretty heady ever since.
On Saturday, Raonic mechanically tore through an American, Donald Young, a 25-year-old who once was a teenage sensation in Chicago, destined – the prognosticators believed – for greatness. It never happened, and Young topped out at No. 38 in the world two years ago. Now No. 73, Young was valiant across the court from Raonic but even while staying close with the Canadian never came close to winning.
Wayne Bryan, father of the doubles stars the Bryan twins, served as the on-court announcer, and his smiling personality shown through, introducing the Canadian as “the man with the monstrous serve, the mighty Milos Raonic!” Raonic lived up to billing – and got his serve up to 231 kilometres an hour. Whoa.
Raonic was never broken and when it counted broke Young, first because Young made mistakes, the second time because Raonic’s returns were vicious. Result: 6-4, 7-5.
“I know how hard it is to break me,” said Raonic on Friday. “It can be very demotivating for my opponents.”
Very demotivating! And people say athletes aren’t expressive, and Raonic is too robotic. After his dispatch of Young, Raonic spoke about his climbing confidence in his own game, after a humbling and gutting semifinals defeat against Roger Federer at Wimbledon: “I just play simple tennis. I don’t necessarily go: ‘Okay, I’m playing well now, let’s try to hit winners right away from the beginning.’ I just keep things very basic.”
Pospisil’s path was more intriguing. After dealing with outwardly undulating feelings earlier in his career, so typical of petulant young men, Pospisil has marshalled himself while still smiling like a caricature. The close loss to Raonic a year ago at Rogers Cup in Montreal got him up to No. 40 and he rose as high as No. 25 by January before falling back to his current No. 36. His wonky back dogged him. But after it was better, a lot of pain and stress before the solution was had, he partnered with Sock, an accidental love affair (platonic and professional), and victory in doubles at Wimbledon was tangible proof of his big-time tennis bona fides.
His Saturday in Washington was not easy. His quarterfinals match, which began late Saturday, had been curtailed by rain. After losing the first set, and rallying to win the second, he was up two points early in the third before the affair was halted. He left Rock Creek Park at midnight and was asleep at 1:30 a.m at the W Hotel near the White House. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Pospisil was back at the tennis grounds, arriving in a tournament-chauffeured Lexus SUV, and with his tennis bag slung over his shoulder strolled in unnoticed by fans and went the players’ gym to warm up.
Pospisil then at 1:19 p.m. resumed his quarterfinals match against No. 34 Santiago Giraldo from Colombia and recovered his interrupted momentum. In a 53-minute session, Pospisil won the third set, a bifurcated victory, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4. Afterwards, he said, “The rain delay didn’t help me,” but felt he was “swinging freely” through the final set. For the afternoon, he planned rest and food. He had never had such an experience, ending one match early in the day and starting a bigger one in the evening, 7 p.m. “It can be good and bad,” he figured, a plus being fresh match experience, the minus being at least a bit physically drained compared with his opponent, No. 14 Gasquet.
Pospisil had, earlier here, defeated the world No. 5 man, Tomas Berdych, the second time Pospisil has defeated Berdych. Against Gasquet, Pospisil almost won the first set and cranked through the next two to win: 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5.
And so, oh Canada, a Raonic-Posipisil final seven kilometres directly north of the White House. It s going to be fun.