The first game on the afternoon of Semi-final Saturday was an all-Canadian affair. Now, this is tennis and not hockey or curling, so it is unusual to be saying that. This was an historic day in Canadian tennis history. There were two Canadians in a Masters tournament semi-final for the first time in history. It would see world number 13 Milos Raonic face off against number 71 Vasek Pospisil. These two young guys are Canada’s male tennis heroes. Because two Canadians were meeting in a semi it guaranteed that one Canadian will be in the final. More history as that has not happened since 1958. Raonic is only 22-years-old and Pospisil is 23, so it seems like bright times ahead for Canadian tennis. Final bit of history was that with a victory in the semis Raonic would be the first Canadian male tennis player to make it to the Top 10.
Going into the game Raonic had the pressure on his shoulders as he was the higher ranked player. He would have to control his emotions due to all this pressure. The two have a long history despite their young age as they have been playing each other since early in their teens. Both players trained in Montreal, but that is where the similarities end.
Support for the two from the crowd was great all week. Pospisil had become a darling for the crowd as is very emotional on the court letting it all hang out. In this way, as well as others, these two players are very different. Raonic’s game is about power, while Pospisil is about speed, defense and athleticism. The 6’5” Raonic has the ace lead in the tournament and doesn’t mix up his serves very much. Just goes for the big bombs most of the time, which is alright when you routinely serve over 200 km/h. Raonic gets extra pop on serve and forehand due to long arms. Due to this length his big serve seems effortless. It is the rest of his game that needs some polishing. His coach has been working on getting him to be more aggressive and come to net more often. Pospisil came into the tournament on a good run after having won a Challenger series tournament in Vancouver last week and his first win earlier this week over a Top 10 player (Tomas Berdych).
The atmosphere in almost full Uniprix Stadium was electric. It was a nice afternoon. Sunny, a little windy, but not humid. Vasek Pospisil would serve first. It was a good first game for him as he got 3 aces showing that Raonic is not the only one with a strong serve. He did not look overly nervous. It was a quick first service game for Raonic for 1-1.
The first break opportunity came in the 3rd game for Raonic courtesy of a couple of double faults for Pospisil. The Vancouver native held on with an ace to win the game and go up 2-1. Just like polite Canadians would Raonic returned the favour and Pospisil had a break opportunity. It was a long game, but Raonic managed a hold for 2-2.
The only break of the first set came in the next game. Once again it was a long game with Raonic gaining a couple of break opportunities. Finally, on a great return off a Pospisil 2nd serve Raonic gains the break for 2-3. The rest of the set went by with each man holding serve fairly easily and Raonic winning the 1st set 6-4 in 47 minutes.
In the 2nd set the swirling wind started to play with some of the shots. Both players are embracing the moment and seem to be enjoying themselves, though sometimes with the stoic Raonic it is hard to tell.
As well as Raonic played in the 1st set is as lousy as he played in the 2nd. He easily held serve to begin and then in another long game he broke Raonic in the 2nd. Pospisil followed that up with a solid hold for 3-0. The 2nd set went more quickly as you might have expected with two big servers. Pospisil once again broke Raonic to go up 5-1 and then the best point of the match so won it for him on his service game. The crowd was getting what it wanted – 3 sets.
After having lost the 2nd set in a horrible fashion 6-1, Milos Raonic took a bathroom break. After the match he admitted that he went into the bathroom and let out all the emotion that he had been bottling up inside of him. Pace is key to Raonic and when things are going wrong he likes to step away and refocus. Or in this case, let it all out. It seemed to work for Raonic as he started off set number 3 with 2 aces and an easy hold.
As the set wore on and each man held serve it was becoming more and more obvious that who was going to blink first in the 3rd in deciding set would win. That blink did not happen over the first 12 games. Each man held serve to 6-6. We were not done yet as there was going to be a tiebreak.
Surprisingly it seemed like the more experienced Raonic tightened up in the tiebreak. His serve was even off. I’ve never seen him serve that badly in his entire career. It was 3-3 when the two changed ends.
Tennis is sometimes a game of inches and moments. This is what happened next. In what seemed like to be mere moments Raonic earned a mini break on Pospisil’s next serve to go up 4-3, split his two serves for 5-4 and then broke Pospisil on both of his next two serves for a 7-4 tiebreak victory.
Milos Raonic had earned a spot in his first Master tournament finals after a 2:16 semi-final win of 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4). Showing how much this meant to him he jumped for joy after the win.
Despite the fact that he was really upset after the game (some reported that he left the court in tears), Pospisil had a great week. He had already moved into the ATP Top 40 with his run at this tournament. He was now officially the first Canadian male in the ATP Top 10. On the other side of the court Pospisil showed his talent and with it he should keep moving up the ranking. Go Canada!