Canada’s Milos Raonic was pressed into action Tuesday in his first Davis Cup appearance since 2018.
He played like he’d never left.
The veteran right-hander from Thornhill, Ont., used his powerful serve to his advantage in a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Finland’s Patrick Kaukovalta to give the defending champions an early lead in the best-of-three quarter-final.
“I took care of my serve and I created quite a few opportunities,” Raonic said. “Just kept putting myself in good positions and it worked out pretty well.”
Finland pulled even when Otto Virtanen defeated Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo 6-4, 7-5 in the other singles match at the Martin Carpena Arena.
Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., were scheduled to play the deciding doubles match later Tuesday against Harri Heliovaara and Patrik Niklas-Salminen.
Raonic held at love in the opening game – winning all four points with aces – and lost just one point on serve in the opening set. The former world No. 3, who returned to the ATP Tour this season after an extended injury absence, closed out the win in a tidy 67 minutes.
“To be here alongside these guys, contributing and trying to just enjoy it, you appreciate these moments a lot more once there is not as many of them,” said the 32-year-old Raonic, who made his Davis Cup debut in 2010.
Auger-Aliassime, who clinched the victory for Canada in last year’s final against Australia, was dealing with a “lower-body issue,” a Tennis Canada spokesman said in an e-mail.
At No. 29, Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime is the lone Canadian player ranked in the top 100. He hasn’t been ruled out to play later in the week should Canada advance, the federation spokesman said.
Finland’s highest-ranked singles player – No. 69 Emil Ruusuvuori – was unavailable due to a shoulder injury.
The winning team will advance to Friday’s semi-final against the winner of Wednesday’s quarter-final between Czechia and Australia.
In the bottom half of the Final 8 draw, Italy will play the Netherlands and Serbia will take on Britain. The final was scheduled for Sunday.
Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., led the Canadian team to its first-ever Davis Cup title last year. Shapovalov is not playing this week as he’s still recovering from a knee injury.
Auger-Aliassime reached a career-best No. 6 last year but his ranking has slipped due to a middling 2023 campaign. However, he showed strong form in successfully defending his Swiss Indoors title last month in Basel.
Raonic, the world No. 318, had his ranking plummet after a Tour absence of nearly two years.
He returned in June and showed he could still hang at the top level when he upset American Frances Tiafoe – then ranked 10th in the world – at the National Bank Open in August.
Diallo, an up-and-coming player who has enjoyed success on the lower-level Challenger circuit this season, is the world No. 139.
Finland is making its first Davis Cup quarter-final appearance. Virtanen is ranked 170th in the world and Kaukovalta is well back at No. 782.
Canada beat Finland 4-1 in 1966 on outdoor clay at Helsinki in their only previous Davis Cup matchup.