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Milos Raonic of Canada plays a forehand during the Men's Singles Semi Final match against Roger Federer of Switzerland on day eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2016 in London, England.

Adam Pretty/Getty Images

They gave out the Lou Marsh Trophy for Canada's best athlete this week. Milos Raonic made the final five in balloting, but amounted to a human rounding error.

As one booster put it, "Let me make the case for a guy who had an incredible year – and didn't win a damn thing."

That was a small exaggeration for effect. Raonic did win one tournament in 2016 – the Brisbane International, back in January.

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From that point on, he was an exemplar of consistency without the benefit of any particular inspiration. His high-water mark was the finals of Wimbledon – a first for a Canadian man.

For just a little while there, after he'd beaten Roger Federer in the semis, it seemed like this was the aspirational moment Raonic and Canada had been waiting years for. Then he was rudely shoved aside by Andy Murray, both during and after the championship match.

At the Centre Court trophy presentation, the highest praise Murray could find for Raonic was noting "he's made big improvements." (This rather made it sound as if a Grand-Slam finalist should be happy with a participant's ribbon.)

Sensing he'd gone down the wrong rhetorical path, Murray began feebly name-checking the Canadian's support team, calling them "very, very polite and well-mannered."

The largely British crowd laughed. They thought their countryman was taking the piss. Polite Canadians – yes, har har, good one.

Unnerved, Murray blurted out, "No, it's true."

The camera helpfully panned to Raonic, who stared straight ahead with a pained look of indifference. Jeered by champagne-swilling toffs on the biggest day of his life – one assumes this was not how he imagined it going down.

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After Wimbledon, Raonic continued his trudge up the rankings. He was seventh in the world in July. He was fourth by October. He finished the year ranked No. 3. He got there by virtue of persistence rather than brilliance, but still.

Judged in relation to history, what Raonic has done this year is rather like climbing Everest with your ankles zip-tied together. The Big Four era isn't anywhere close to what it was, but the Big Four are still (intermittently) playing. Raonic has cracked that club down the middle over the course of an entire season.

And yet, where's the ovation? Going into the Lou Marsh discussions, everyone agreed it had been such a boffo year for Canadian sport that any one of four competitors might win. Few thought Raonic was among them.

At the least, where are the hosannas about the transubstantiation of Canadian tennis from a mild embarrassment into a national point of pride? There are none.

Eugenie Bouchard used up all that good will a couple of years ago. It didn't end well. In the midst of its golden age, Canadian tennis is failing the Glengarry Glen Ross rule of ABCs – Always Be Closing. Other nations win major titles and get the Cadillac car. Canada gets the steak knives.

Raonic is 25 years old and at the peak of his powers. But if he continues on as he has – as remarkable as that run has been – he's in danger of being relegated to the special hell reserved for athletes in individual sports who were always good and never great.

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What Raonic faces in 2017 might be called the Mike Weir Test.

Weir did for Canadian golf what Raonic is doing for Canadian men's tennis – make a global sport relevant as a homer concern.

Weir's career had a salutary knock-on effect, cutting a trail for those who followed. No Canadian men's golfer has yet matched his feats, but they're in the discussion. By this time next year, 19-year-old Brooke Henderson may have overtaken him. That's holistic success.

Raonic has already managed the same trick, with teenage players such as Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime coming up fast from behind. But when they eventually manage to leapfrog the top man, Raonic will not get the same consideration.

Because Weir did what Raonic has not: win the big one.

Though gifted in very different ways, Weir and Raonic are essentially the same athlete. Both have genial, retiring personalities and are easily missed in a crowd. Both are relentless pluggers. Neither dominated over long stretches.

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In 25 years as a pro, Weir won eight PGA tournaments. (By contrast, Jim Furyk, a player of similar quality born on the same day as Weir, won 17.)

Weir was a top-10 player for parts of five consecutive years in the teeth of the Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson heyday.

That's truly something, but it wouldn't matter much if it hadn't been for one glorious weekend in 2003. The thumbnail of Weir's career is "Masters champion – was otherwise pretty good." Leave out the first part and all that's left to show for a quarter-century of effort is an enormous pile of money.

If Weir were given a sporting Sophie's Choice – you can keep either the Masters title or the cash – I'm going to confidently guess which thing means more to him.

Raonic is a higher-profile athlete than Weir ever was, both here and abroad. That says more about tennis than the man. But were he to retire tomorrow, Raonic would be forgotten internationally in a month and back home in a couple of years.

Weir's career returned to regularly scheduled service immediately after winning the most major major. Never a star, he became a top-end journeyman. Then a permanently injured, bottom-end one. These days, he has more profile as a vintner than a golfer.

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The thing keeping Weir's head above the waterline of anonymity is that Masters. It guarantees he will never be forgotten, in golf or in Canada.

Milos Raonic has already accomplished a great deal – far more than Weir had pre-2003. But until Raonic finds his way to a major title, it all feels pencilled in. It won't last.

That makes things simple. Raonic has several good years left to play – and only one good reason to play them. Everything is reduced to two weeks, four times per year.

If he doesn't win a Grand Slam, he will still be the greatest Canadian player of all time. But his career will have amounted to a long and lucrative disappointment.

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