Milos Raonic on the drive to fight in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ era.

TORONTO — Milos Raonic scores an ace outside the box.

Frances Tiafo watches the ball pass.

Raonic beat world number 10 Tiafoe in three sets 6-7(12), 7-6(4), 6-3 in the first round of the National Bank Open in Toronto on Monday. After 2 hours and 44 minutes, the Canadian earned his first win since returning to the ATP Tour following a two-year hiatus due to injury.

The crowd embraced Raonic as he returned. Fans waved Canadian flags. Red and white hats scattered across the Sobeys arena. “Let’s go, Milos!” chants pervaded the stadium at the critical point.

Several strokes against Teafo test Raonic. In a tiebreaker that felt like a heavyweight fight — with both players serving decisive serve. Save Set Point – Tiafoe’s set point at 13-12 caused controversy. Referee Fergus Murphy initially said that Tiafoe touched the net before turning the call in his favour. American

The ATP Tour’s rule book states that the area between the single stick and the net posts “This is a permanent fixture and not part of the net,” Raonic smashed his racket after losing a set. But he never lost his faith.

Raonic regained his senses. and after winning He joked that he wanted to see the rules. Surrendering to Great Success: Win the ATP Masters 1000 Tournament for the First Time Since March 29, 2021

Raonic won the next match as well. Before the magic wore off in the Round of 16 against American Mackenzie McDonald, Raonic’s short run at the National Bank Open was far from the rest period he had been resting from the game. at the toe He didn’t pick up the racket at all. He remained out of the spotlight. His recovery took place very privately. There were times when Raonic questioned whether he could come back. and if he wants

But Raonic likes to compete. He enjoys the preparation and challenge of dissecting his opponents. Even at 32 years of age, Raonic believes he can produce at a high level in tennis.

His story is a familiar one in men’s tennis. As generations of players struggle to win the biggest prizes of the ‘Big Three’ era, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Gran. Of the 80 slams since Federer won his first major title at Wimbledon in 2003, 30 men have made it to the final, only 12 have lifted the trophy in 80. Slams before that had 28 different champions.

It’s an overcast day. And Raonic is training with Yannik. Eighth Sinner Five days before Raonic’s match with Tiefo. empty field Except for players and coaches on the field.

Raonic scores a decisive serve. The sinner rushes to retrieve it with the back of his hand. Raonic hit his forehand, making the point. After Sinner countered with a backhand, Raonic followed up with his own cross-court backhand. Sinners cannot strike back.

“I’m happy to have the opportunity to train with him when he feels comfortable on the pitch,” Sinner said. The Athletic. “It was one of the best services on tour. I felt in the game he served better.”

Training with Sinner and 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev ahead of the National Bank Open proved to Raonic that he can still play his style.

“I don’t feel that I’m too far away from the tennis that was reminiscent of a few years ago,” Raonic said.

Three years ago, Raonic was still a big factor in major tournaments. He qualified for the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals and the final at the Cincinnati Masters, losing to Djokovic in the final after winning the first set. in major competitions He reached the quarterfinals or better 10 times, reaching the Wimbledon final in 2016, where he lost to Andy. Murray in straight sets Raonic is 25 and is one of the latest batch of young players expected to break through and win the Slam a few months later. He also rose to number 3 in the world during his career.

“He’s a big guy who can cause trouble for the Big Four,” Medvedev said. By adding Murray to the group nicknamed the top of men’s tennis. “It’s always interesting when people can do it.”

When healthy, Raonic’s game can beat opponents. However, injuries interfered with his career. Foot, hamstring and knee illnesses forced Raonic to miss tour time. The last time Raonic played all four Slams in the same year was 2016. He believes a fall at Wimbledon in 2011, which required him to have surgery on his right hip, was the cause of several ailments over the years. past

“I remember being in Brisbane one year (2016) and he beat Federer in the final,” said former Canadian mixed doubles player Daniel Nestor. before he started winning slams It’s a pity that his body can’t handle it.”

“I don’t feel that I’m too far away from the tennis that’s reminiscent of a few years ago,” said Raonic, a 2020 Cincinnati finalist. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

There’s also the reality of the era in which Raonic played. Since Raonic turned pro in 2008, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have combined to win 238 titles, including 65 Slams. Three” at Slam was over Federer in the 2016 Wimbledon semi-finals. Every time Raonic lost to a member of the “Big Three” in Slam, one of them won the title.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s the Big Three,” said Riccardo Piatti, who coached Raonic from 2013 to 2017. “In the year he (Raonic) played well (2016) Murray was No. 1. He did everything. Thinking back, you had to enjoy what he did. because we have tried.”

Raonic was just one of many players, along with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomáš Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, Kevin Anderson and others who knocked on the door but never escaped the realities of the era. All those players reached the top 5 at some point. They all had multiple Slam deep runs. They were all intercepted in their greatest moments by the Big Three.

“Three men are busy calibrating everyone in what is normal,” Raonic said, referring to the emphasis at Slams due to the Big Three’s dominance.

Raonic then recorded his first win against a top-10 player since 2020. Although Raonic had a poor record against the Big Three, he secured them a win at the 2014 French Open. Raonic “Serve well, there’s not much you can do,” Nadal said of his constant pressure every time he plays with Raonic.

“If I don’t play aggressively I’m dead,” Nadal said at the 2017 Australian Open about the Raonic play that lost to the Canadians in Brisbane later that year.

There was a lot of connective tissue between the players in this era. they are long-lived they crave success

“I think at the heart of it is the love of tennis,” said Andy Murray, who reached the last 16 in Canada at the age of 36. The Athletic. “I love this game. I want to see how far I can push, to see how close I can get to the top 10 or top 20 in the world.”

“From nutrition, how to exercise The time you spend on the court versus the time you spend in the gym. It all became a science,” says Raonic. “That’s why you see players getting more out of themselves.”

Raonic knows how important it is to come back to Toronto. He has had a boundless impact on Canadian tennis. Felix Auger-Aliassime Montreal residents who climbed as high as 6th in the world called him “the greatest man in the world.” “It’s a huge inspiration to myself and many others.” Sobeys Stadium is 10 minutes from Raonic, where family and friends can attend his games. Before his second match against Taro, Daniel Raonic went to his parents’ house after practice and played with his two mini Golden Retrievers.

According to Casey Curtis, Raonic’s first coach—Raonic returned because he knew his game could rival the top players.

“If he doesn’t think he can compete He wouldn’t do this,” Curtis said. The Athletic“The task is very difficult to get to this level where you can fight these guys. He can still compete at this level.”

Since the beginning of this year, Raonic has lost 40 pounds. Because most of his injuries are in his lower body, Raonic needs to exert pressure on his joints. he called it “Quiet tennis” In practice, Raonic likes silence. So he can focus on the target during training. But after a long absence from racing, Raonic misses the exciting atmosphere. That’s why he enjoys the energy from the Canadian crowd.

“You always try to find answers. How to solve problems in court And trying to find a way to win,” Raonic said. response like that It makes a difference.”

As Raonic walks off the field after losing to McDonald’s. The crowd cheered loudly. He waved to the fans. many people standing He threw a towel at a young fan near the stadium exit.

In an injury-riddled career where “three men have stirred up everyone’s expectations for a long time,” Raonic remains an icon in Canada.

And he remains a testament to the spirit that keeps players coming back to hunt down the elusive Slam.

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(Top photo: Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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