It may be hard to believe, but Milos Raonic, at 25, is now part of the ATP tour's sandwich generation, not exactly a grizzled veteran yet, but no longer considered just an up-and-comer, either.
Nowadays, the up-and-comers look a little like Jared Donaldson, a 19-year-old qualifier who was having a pretty good week at the Rogers Cup – until Thursday night.
That's when Donaldson ran into the unstoppable serving force that is Raonic, who improved his game considerably from a night earlier, and cruised to a 6-2, 6-3 over the young American from Rhode Island.
Raonic, who is adding a little more polish to his game with every passing day, was in control of the match from start to finish.
It wouldn't be overstating matters to say he put on a clinic in the victory over Donaldson.
Midway through the second set, after Raonic had recorded easy early service breaks in each of the two sets, Donaldson was looking awfully discouraged out there. Every shot in the Raonic arsenal appeared to be working, even some of the more esoteric stuff he was trying – the backhand stab volley, a couple of chip-and-charge points that caught Donaldson off guard.
But as Raonic noted himself afterward, it was a night when the best part of his game – the serve – was firing efficiently on all cylinders.
Raonic has forged a well-earned reputation for booming big serves, but when he's on and really befuddling opponents, it's because of his willingness and ability to change the pace occasionally. Raonic gave Donaldson all kinds of fits with a kick serve wide on the ad court, where Donaldson could only make contact with the ball around ear level, if he got his racquet on it all.
Raonic blasted 15 aces past Donaldson and won 81 per cent of his first-serve points.
So after two easy wins, Raonic now faces his first real test of the Rogers Cup, a quarter-final meeting with Frenchman Gaël Monfils. Monfils is the 10th seed here, but he's on one of the best runs of his tennis-playing life. Just two months shy of his 30th birthday, Monfils won the tournament in Washington last weekend and on Thursday, upset the No. 7 seed, David Goffin, in three hard sets.
It remains to be seen how much gas Monfils has left in the tank after playing three matches here this week already. The odds are good that he will be running on fumes against Raonic, a player he's faced four times in his career, the two splitting the matches.
But Raonic won relatively easily at Indian Wells back in the spring, and suggested that he's looking forward to the challenge of playing the rangy Frenchman in front of his hometown crowd.
"He can do a lot of great things," Raonic said.
"He is, by far, the most athletic player on the court and the most entertaining to watch. But I feel like if I do my things well, I can take that away from him and I look forward to coming back out here."
Monfils earlier eliminated the Canadian fan favourite Vasek Pospisil and says he doesn't mind playing in front of an unfriendly crowd – though given how popular Monfils is, there are very few times when that actually occurs.
"It's like Davis Cup, and I love to play in Davis Cup," Monfils said. "I love to play when it's crowded, and if the crowd is for the other one, it's fine."
If Raonic gets past Monfils, he faces the likely possibility of meeting the world's No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, in Saturday's semi-final. Djokovic was scheduled to play the final match of the night against the 37-year-old Czech qualifier Radek Stepanek.
The No. 2 and 3 seeds in the tournament, Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka and Japan's Kei Nishikori, are both humming along nicely in the bottom half of the draw, after wins over Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram, respectively. Wawrinka faces a potentially difficult quarter-final match against South Africa's Kevin Anderson, a 30-year-old veteran, who is having another excellent Rogers Cup tournament. Anderson's latest victim was the 12th seed, Australia's Bernard Tomic.
Raonic has made a couple of well-publicized additions to his coaching entourage, including two former No. 1s, Carlos Moya and John McEnroe, with whom he's working on a part-time basis. Their influence can be seen in the way he handles himself on the court – with a far greater sense of calm than when he was just getting his foot in the door.
"Maybe it would have been better to have done this a little bit earlier, last year when I got up to No. 4 in the world," Raonic said of the extra coaching help he's getting. "But obviously I didn't have that possibility considering all the injuries. So this was the right time to make that step.
"It takes a personal maturity to take what they can give you, but also to take it in the right way and make the most of it and then not lose your identity at the same time."