TORONTO - Friday night’s Sport Chek Face-off at the Air Canada Centre might have been a friendly exhibition match, but Milos Raonic went into it like it was any other major event.
Facing Andy Roddick, his opponent from last year’s Regions Morgan Keegan tournament final in Memphis, the Thornhill native had more than enough motivation heading into the rematch.
Though some of it had to do with defeating the man who beat him back in Tennessee 19 months ago, a lot of Raonic’s determination stemmed from the location of the Face-off.
“You approach it in almost the same way (as any other match),” Raonic said in a morning press conference in downtown Toronto, hours before taking the court against Roddick. “Andy got the better of me the last time we played … so I just want to play well here, especially with it being in Toronto.”
After starting the 2011 season ranked 156th in the Association of Tennis Professionals standings, Raonic jumped to a then career-high 25th place last May, earning himself the ATP Newcomer of the Year award last November.
Now ranked No. 13 in the world in men’s singles, the 21-year-old is certainly proud of the current status of tennis in Canada, even if he believes there’s more to be done.
“I think we’re definitely on the right track,” Raonic said to the gathered media crowd. “There’s a lot of support, and a lot of appreciation around many different tournaments throughout the year.
“The kind of support we’re getting is really amazing, and it’s something we want to keep building up together and with myself as well, just through playing tennis, the rest will follow.”
Raonic wasn’t the only one praising the progress of Canadian tennis, however, as Roddick himself had glowing words for the nation that developed his opponent.
“It’s exciting to come here to Canada and see that there’s a legitimate singles prospect in the wings,” Roddick said before the match, which the American won 4-6, 6-4, 10-7. “I like his game ... and it seems like he has that hunger to get better and not just be satisfied, so that will serve him well.”
Though Roddick retired from professional tennis on his 30th birthday this past August, the former No. 1-ranked star has seen a lot of up-and-coming talent emerge on the scene over the last little while.
But Raonic, according to Roddick, has a few qualities which separate him from that young group.
“He’s got a weapon that you can’t teach,” Roddick said of his Canadian counterpart. “He can have bad games and still get through matches with his serve and that’s a huge advantage.”
And Roddick’s praises didn’t stop there.
“I’m not around Milos that much (but) I know what I see in the locker room, and he goes about his business very well, taking care of what he needs to take care of in the training room,” he said. “He seems very focused and that’s something that some of our young players have lacked in the last five years or so.
“It’s nice to see someone that young go about things in a professional way and it doesn’t seem as though that’s something he’s had to learn.”
So, with a deadly serve and a professional demeanour, Raonic could be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, according to Roddick at least.
“Milos doesn’t need to hear anything from me,” the 30-year-old said. “He’s got enough fire power to make himself relevant for a long time.”
SERENA NO MATCH FOR CN TOWER
With two Rogers Cup championships under her belt, there’s no doubt that Serena Williams has enjoyed her fair share of success in Toronto.
But there’s at least one memory from this city that the American tennis star would rather forget.
Despite harbouring a serious fear of heights, Williams, on one of her many trips north of the border for competition, ventured into the CN Tower in an incident that didn’t end well for the reigning Wimbledon champ.
“I thought, ‘I can do it, I can do it!’ Williams exclaimed in a press conference in Toronto on Friday morning prior to the Sport Chek Face-off at the Air Canada Centre. “(But) the minute I went up the elevator … I panicked. I got out of the elevator and I was huddled in a corner shaking and I couldn’t be consoled.”
In her time of panic, the impeccably fit Williams turned to junk food.
“I remember I had bought all kinds of candies and carbs and cakes and I started shoving them in my mouth,” she said between fits of laughter. “People came to escort me down. I had a complete panic attack … I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
Although Williams’ memory of Toronto’s most famous landmark is marred by anxiety and embarrassment, the 31-year-old is still quite fond of this city.
In a year in which she won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and two Olympic gold medals in both the singles and doubles events, Williams credits Canada, and her 2011 Rogers Cup win at the Rexall Centre last August, as the spark that began her “comeback year.”
Now back in Toronto to take on her Wimbledon opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, in the friendly exhibition match, Williams certainly won’t be tempted to conquer her fears by climbing that menacing tower once more.
“Heights aren’t for me,” she laughed. “I’m going to definitely stick to the ground.”