Milos Mania hits Rexall Centre

Canada's Milos Raonic attends a training session at the All England Lawn Tennis Club before the...

Canada's Milos Raonic attends a training session at the All England Lawn Tennis Club before the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games in London July 26, 2012. (Stefan Wermuth/REUTERS)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:48 PM ET

TORONTO - Milos Mania will be alive and well this week.

And, frankly, it's a good thing fans have a seeded Canadian like Milos Raonic to hang their hat on at the Rogers Cup because, unless you get cranked up at the thought of Tomas Berdych or Janko Tipsarevic, there's not much else to get excited about.

This tournament is one or two more significant withdrawals away from looking more like a second-tier event, not Tennis Canada's shining jewel.

So, in hindsight, with big names like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer and Andy Roddick pulling out last week and the possibility of defending champ Novak Djokovic skipping the event still looming overhead like a dark cloud, it was a no-brainer to make Raonic, who grew up virtually around the corner from the Rexall Centre, the face of the tournament.

"Milos is a very special guy, he actually loves this," tournament director Karl Hale said. "He likes the attention. He likes to be the centre of the tournament.

“So we think it will actually help him a lot. It builds his confidence."

Judging from how much the marketing campaign is pumping Raonic, he certainly is Da Man around these parts.

Surely you've seen those marginally humourous TV ads, the ones where the bearded red-head and, uh, hard-of-hearing little ol' lady claim to be Raonic in front of a disbelieving media corps. And nobody can miss the massive banners with his likeness that have been strung up around the grounds at Rexall Centre.

Heck, even the grandstand court has been renamed in his honour for the duration of the tournament, something that has caught the eye of his peers.

"I've been getting a little bit of teasing from the other players about the grandstand court," a comfortable-looking Raonic said with a smile during Sunday's media availability. "It's weird but I don't think too much about it. It's just guys heckling and hustling each other.

"I haven't seen the TV commercials, I don't really watch TV when I'm here and I'm not here that much, so I've been able to avoid that part of it."

The one thing Raonic won't be able to evade at the Rogers Cup is the spotlight, which will shine brightly as he tries to become the first Canadian champ in this tournament since, well, practically forever.

Now all the 21-year-old from Thornhill, playing in what amounts to his own backyard for the first time as a top-25 player, has to do is hold up his end of the bargain and go deep in the tournament. That won't be easy with newly crowned Olympic champ Andy Murray standing in his path.

Seeded 16th for the Rogers Cup, which earns him a first-round bye, Raonic is staring at a third-round showdown with Murray, who dominated world No. 1 Rogers Federer to win gold Sunday in London. Murray and Laura Robson lost the gold-medal match in mixed doubles later in the day.

An optimist would suggest all that extra work, combined with the trans-Atlantic flight and a short turnaround for Murray, could give Raonic an edge if the two stars do meet.

"I think it's a very good draw for Milos," tournament director Karl Hale said. "Andy just finished his mixed doubles (match) and I'm sure he'll be a little tired coming into the tournament. If you're asking for a draw against a top player that would probably be your best choice."

Raonic, as the hometown hero, will get preferential treatment for his first match against either Serb Viktor Troicki or Russian Alex Bogomolov, Jr.

It's already been announced he will play Tuesday evening, undoubtedly before a rowdy, partisan crowd on Centre Court, in the first second-round match to get rolled out. Clearly, it's part of Raonic's hometown advantage.

"For sure it's going to be something pretty amazing, pretty special, and I think it can help me through a lot of moments throughout a match," Raonic said. "But at the end of the day, I've got to try to do what I've been doing so far this year. I feel like I'm playing well right now, I feel like I'm doing a lot of things well.

"Even though there's going to be the crowd support and everything, at the end of the day I have to try to tune that out as much and go about my business."


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