MONTREAL - Canada’s top two players are through to the third round at the Rogers Cup.
It’s perhaps no big surprise for Milos Raonic, but all-new ground for Vasek Pospisil.
Raonic, the world No. 13 player, blasted 13 aces past 25th-ranked Russian Mikhail Youzhny in a 6-4, 6-4 win that gets him into Thursday’s action for the second straight year.
The match was delayed 25 minutes because of rain but that didn’t slow down the hard-hitting Thornhill, Ont. native, whose ATP Tour-leading serve was in fine form and reached speeds of 231 km/h.
“It’s difficult after a rain delay but today I’m happy with my tennis,” he said. “Happy to win (Tuesday), had a chance to play better (Wednesday) and I’m happy I did.”
Pospisil’s berth in the third round was far from routine — unprecedented in fact — and guarantees the fist-pumping young British Columbian another jump in the ATP rankings.
He dominated Czech veteran Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-4, breaking his opponent five times with blistering serves to go with powerful and accurate shot-making.
The Vernon, B.C., native rode a third-game service break to a 5-2 first-set lead and finished the set strong, hitting two sizzling forehand winners, the latter of which drew his now-familiar fist pump.
The decisive eighth game was perhaps Pospisil’s best of the set, as he swept the last three points on powerful serves that Stepanek couldn’t return.
The 71st-ranked Canadian clearly had the crowd behind him all the way through.
Hundreds of Centre Court spectators left their seats during Andy Murray’s match with Spaniard Marcel Ganollers to peer over the railing at National Bank court, their interest no doubt piqued by the frequent roars from the adjacent crowd.
It was a raucous atmosphere, with one fan section chanting “Pos-pi-SIL!” while across the court another group, possibly visiting from Europe, replied with “Ste-pa-NEK!”
The world No. 51 didn’t go down easily after falling behind 4-1 in the second set, finally breaking Pospisil in the sixth game with a bag of tricks that included a cleverly-placed back-corner shot well beyond his much-younger opponent’s reach.
Stepanek, 35, broke the 23-year-old a second time in the eighth game before the Canadian regrouped and shut him out in the final game, punctuating the victory with an ace.
As in his first-round victory over American John Isner, Pospisil sported a fluorescent green shirt and matching shoelaces and wristbands.
He said the home crowd pumped him up as much as his strong play.
“I love it obviously,” said Pospisil, who has won 10 of his last 11 matches. “I tend to play my best tennis in Canada. So maybe it helps me more than other players.”
He’ll next face Czech Tomas Berdych, the world’s sixth-ranked player and a Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year. Pospisil insists his hot streak means that nerves won’t be a problem.
“I don’t feel the stress much,” he said. “It makes a great difference. When you are confident, everything goes well.”
A record five Canadians competed in the second round of the Rogers Cup but Wednesday’s action didn’t end well for three of them.
Ottawa-born Jesse Levine was trounced 6-2, 6-0 in his Centre Court matchup with former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal while ATP rookie Filip Peliwo of Vancouver bowed out 3-6, 6-3, 3-6 to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
Niagara Falls native Frank Dankevic fought Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz through three sets before falling 6-7 (5) 6-3, 4-6.
Also on Wednesday, world No. 2 Murray made a successful return from a month-long layoff from his historic Wimbledon victory. The tournament’s second seed had to come back from a second-set break to beat Granollers 6-4, 7-6 (2).
He’ll move on to face Latvian Ernests Gulbis, who upset 13th-seeded Italian Fabio Fognini 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
Nadal, meanwhile, dominated Levine far more thoroughly than in his 6-4, 6-2 win over the Canadian at the 2008 Rogers Cup.
This time around, the resurgent Spaniard didn’t lose a service game against Levine and broke the 132nd-ranked Canadian five out of 10 times. He won 64 of 104 points in the 72-minute match.
Levine, a wild-card entry, got to the second round by upsetting Belgian Xavier Malisse Monday.
Nadal, meanwhile, is on an impressive comeback trail after missing much of last year with a bum knee.
He is 43-3 in 2013 matches, making the finals in nine of 10 tournament appearances.
Nadal will next face Poland’s Janowicz in the third round on Thursday.