Milos Raonic has been seen everywhere around his hometown this past week or so, as he prepared to play the Rogers Cup.
He's posed for pictures with the mayor, rallied with young players down at City Hall. He's been on the practice courts at the Aviva Centre, and is featured on all the posters promoting the tournament.
About the only place you didn't see Raonic was on an actual bona-fide tennis court.
All that changed Wednesday night, when Raonic finally got his Rogers Cup tournament under way against Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan, the No. 70th-ranked player in the world.
Playing for the first time since his seminal run to the Wimbledon final, Raonic had little difficulty dispatching Lu in straight sets. It was about as routine a day at the office as one could imagine for Raonic, who broke Lu twice in the opening set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Raonic won the first set in 29 minutes, breaking the hopelessly overmatched Lu in the fifth and ninth games – beating him down with a mixture of shots that have contributed to the strides he's made in his overall game. Nowadays, Raonic moves far better from side to side, and no longer relies so heavily on his serve and that inside-outside forehand.
They are still his key weapons, but he also has a greater net presence and the ability to play longer points from the baseline as needed. That variety in Raonic's game gave Lu all kinds of problems – and the 32-year-old veteran of the Challenger Tour really couldn't get a meaningful foothold in the match.
Next up for Raonic in the third round is American qualifier Jared Donaldson, the No. 173rd-ranked player in the world, who won in three sets over Italy's Fabio Fognini.
In all, it was an impressive first night for Raonic on what was otherwise a disappointing day for the first three Canadians to take the court for their second-round matches.
Canada's No. 2-ranked men's singles player, Vasek Pospisil, who entered the match with high hopes, ultimately lost his second-round match in straight sets to the No. 10 seed, Gael Monfils of France.
Pospisil sounded utterly gutted in his post-match news conference, after hanging in there with Monfils, point-for-point, in an evenly played first set. Pospisil even had a set point on his racquet during the first-set tiebreak, but failed to convert. Two points later, with a few drops of rain in the air, Monfils converted his own set point, taking the life out of the crowd and the wind out of Pospisil's sails.
After a short rain delay, Monfils came out smoking. He started with three consecutive aces and ended up winning the second set at love, the confidence leaking out of Pospisil with every passing moment.
Officially, it went into the books as a 7-6 (6), 6-0 victory for Monfils, who will play David Goffin in the third round, the winner seeded to meet Raonic in the quarters.
"I didn't do a good job after that first set to calm down," Pospisil said. "I felt frustration … six months of bottled-up frustration kind of erupted in that second set. That was tough. I was playing pretty well. I mean, I had opportunities to win that. Then, yeah, the second set was tough. It just kind of felt it was getting away from me very quickly."
Pospisil will play doubles with Daniel Nestor against Nick Kyrgios and his usual partner, Jack Sock, but he was having a hard time looking forward to that encounter in the early aftermath of his loss.
"At the moment it's hard for me to be excited about going back on the court soon," Pospisil said. "This is still very fresh. A couple hours, or maybe tomorrow morning I'll feel a little bit better."
The giddiness of their unexpected first-round wins also gave rise to hard reality for two Canadian wild-card entrants, Peter Polansky and Steven Diez, who saw their short runs end. Polansky lost in straight sets to Czech qualifier Radek Stepanek, while Diez went down to Australia's Bernard Tomic, the 12th seed. Both earned 45 valuable ATP rankings points, however, and will cash cheques worth $26,885 – big paydays for players scuffling around the margins of the professional game.
That's less of a concern to Raonic, who has already amassed earnings of more than $3.25-million (U.S.) this season and is in third place in the race to qualify for the year-end championships in London.
But Raonic's goals have been set far higher for this year. He is ranked seventh in the world, but with Roger Federer out for the season and Rafael Nadal injured, getting to No. 3 by year's end is within his reach. A deep run in the Rogers Cup, after losing his first match in last year's tournament to Ivo Karlovic, would greatly enhance his opportunity to do just that.