Confident and reflective Milos Raonic wants to prove he belongs in ATP top 10

Canada's Milos Raonic celebrates his win over compatriot Vasek Pospisil during the men's Rogers Cup...

Canada's Milos Raonic celebrates his win over compatriot Vasek Pospisil during the men's Rogers Cup semi-finals tennis tournament match in Montreal August 10, 2013. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:24 AM ET

Milos Raonic's surge into the world top 10 might have hinged on a crucial bathroom break.

He had just played one of the worst sets of his season in a high-pressure semifinal match against fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil with a berth in the Rogers Cup final on the line.

Forehands were sailing into the net and he couldn't return Pospisil's serves worth a lick. He was also broken twice.

Even Raonic's serves were 60 km/h slower than their usual blistering pace.

When the 1-6 second-set nightmare set was over, with the match all square on the biggest stage in Canadian tennis, Raonic hustled off to a washroom outside Centre Court to talk -- or rather shout -- to himself.

"I had so much bottled up inside of me that it was stopping me from playing my best tennis," he told reporters. "I sort of yelled at myself, got a lot of emotions out, told myself if this is going to happen any other way, it's going to be me going out there and pushing as much as I can."

The top tour players have a knack for bouncing back after setbacks and Raonic delivered against an opponent who wasn't about to let up.

Pushing Posipsil to a climactic tiebreak, Raonic's lower-ranked opponent blinked first, giving up two crucial points on forehands that hit the net, including one that drove him to a 4-6 brink.

Raonic capitalized in the 11th and final game, going to the net for a volley that Pospisil couldn't return.

The normally-placid star celebrated the historic victory with a level of emotion he hadn't shown all week -- or rarely in his career -- jumping up and down and glaring into the crowd with a smile.

Now he gets to try his hand against one of the greatest of all time - surging Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

The world No. 3 defeated the tour's top player, Serb Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) in the second semifinal.

Nadal sports a 3-0 career record against Raonic and had high praise for Canada's top player.

"He's a fantastic player. I know him well," Nadal said. "He's had a great season and he played a fantastic tournament."

Nadal also gave a nod to the record five Canadians who made the Rogers Cup second round this week.

"I'm very happy for the Canadians," he said. "There were two Canadians in the semifinals. Keep working. Canada is doing very well."

Not only is Raonic the first Canuck in 55 years to appear in the tournament final, he has crossed a threshold that he had chased all year -- to crack the ATP top 10.

"To be able to do it here in Montreal is pretty amazing," he said. "It's not even just for myself, top 10, just the fact of the match today and everything."

He'll get an immediate chance to prove he belongs with the big boys.

If he wants to score the upset on Sunday, he'll have to cut down on unforced errors that will lead to punishment from the likes of Nadal.

Raonic says it's all about staying on the attack, a tactical change that has been key in the Canadian's ascent to the top of the tennis world.

"I have to try to play as much as I can on my terms," he explained. "I've got to be aggressive ... rather than waiting for them to make errors or anything of that sort."

Raonic has been the anointed one of Canadian tennis since he burst onto the scene with a fourth-round berth in the Australian Open.

With his new spot in the top 10 starting to sink in, Raonic was reflective and even effusive during his post-match news conference.

He recalled a reluctant move to Montreal several years ago when Tennis Canada singled out the 17-year-old as the future centrepiece of the program.

It was the first time he had been away from his parents, but they made the drive from Thornhill, Ont., to visit him nearly every weekend.

"I'm not even close to where I am right now if it wasn't for them, for every opportunity they gave me," he said of Vesna and Dusan Raonic.

"They would drive up here, stay, the whole thing, drive Saturday morning six hours, drive home on Sunday."

Now they can sit back and watch their boy on the biggest stage of his career.

And Canadian tennis fans might have a new all-Canadian rivalry: Raonic-Pospisil.

"I think there's going to be many more times where it happens," Raonic said of potential showdowns with his one-time junior circuit nemesis.

"I think for it to really be a bigtime rivalry, it always has to be on big stages."

For that to happen, Pospisil knows he'll need for his dream run at the Rogers Cup to become routine.

"For my sake I hope we'll see each other a lot more," Raonic said. "That will mean I'll keep up the good form and stuff."

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Year    Name                Round       Surface      Winning Player     Losing Player     Score

2013    Barcelona          SF            Clay          Rafael Nadal         Milos Raonic      6-4, 6-0

2011    Tokyo Outdoor    R16          Hard          Rafael Nadal         Milos Raonic      7-5, 6-3

2010    Tokyo Outdoor    R16          Hard          Rafael Nadal         Milos Raonic      6-4, 6-4

 


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