The paths Rebecca Marino and Milos Raonic took to their recent tennis success have been very different, but today they stand together as the new top-ranked female and male players in Canada respectively.
Raonic (pronounced RAY-oh-nich) overtook the No. 1 spot in the country last week from Peter Polansky after a great run in September and October on the ATP World Tour.
He qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw at this year’s U.S. Open, followed that up with a nail-biting five-set victory in Davis Cup play for Canada and then traveled to Asia where the tennis world really began to take notice of the 19-year-old from Thornhill, Ontario.
First in Malaysia at the ATP World Tour 250 event in Kuala Lumpur, Raonic qualified for the main draw, knocked off No. 105 Igor Kunitsyn of Russia and stunned world No. 31 Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine before running out of gas against Russian Igor Andreev in the quarter-finals in three sets.
Raonic wasn’t done there.
On to Japan for the Tokyo Open, an ATP World Tour 500 event with a much stronger lineup. He qualified once again (not giving up a set), then defeated Florent Serra of France before a showdown with the world’s best in Rafael Nadal in the second round. The Spaniard broke Raonic just once in each set en route to a 6-4, 6-4 victory. The No. 1 ranked player on the planet had some positive things to say about the rising Canadian.
"He’s a very good player. He’s got a great future,” Nadal said. "He’s very aggressive and very young. His serve is unbelievable. He can do some things to improve how he plays the point after his serve. I think tennis is going to get better and better there [in Canada] because of him. I’m not sure when, but he is going to be in one of the top positions."
Lastly, Raonic played at the Tashkent Challenger in Uzbekistan but was forced to retire in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Karol Beck of Slovakia, due to a sore shoulder. Today he sits No. 1 in Canada and No. 155 on the ATP World Tour.
Rebecca Marino decided to stay in North America and hone her skills in a series of Challenger events. The move has certainly paid off for the pride of Vancouver who reached a career-best No. 110 on the WTA Tour today with two events to go before the close of the 2010 campaign.
Like her male counterpart, Marino used her success at Flushing Meadows as a springboard to her top national ranking. Three straight-set wins during the qualifying tournament at the U.S. Open earned the six-foot 19-year-old her first Grand Slam main draw. A win over Ksenia Pervak of Russia set up a showdown on famed Arthur Ashe Stadium against American star Venus Williams. With an international television audience watching, the Canadian gave Williams all she could handle, losing 7-6(3), 6-3 in the second round. She earned the respect of her opponent and praise from several in the tennis world.
Marino returned to Canada for the Bell Challenge in Quebec City and made headlines again by upsetting former Wimbledon finalist and top-seed Marion Bartoli of France 6-3, 6-1 in the second round. What has transpired after Quebec City has given Canadian tennis fans increased hope for the soft-spoken Marino. She has won 15 consecutive matches, including three straight tournament titles in Saguenay, Kansas City and most recently, Troy, Alabama.
"It’s great to be playing good quality matches at the end of the year," said Marino following her championship match on Sunday. "I’m also glad that all the hard work I’ve been putting in is paying off and I have the results to prove it."
Canada is currently enjoying depth in its high performance program that fans have not seen in many years. Six women are ranked among the Top 250 players in the world and Canada will face Serbia in the first round of World Group II Fed Cup action next year.
For quite some time, Aleksandra Wozniak and Frank Dancevic have dominated the Canadian tennis headlines alongside the great doubles specialist Daniel Nestor. With both singles players recovering from injury, Marino and Raonic have stepped up and welcomed in a new generation of tennis stars in our country. A return of Wozniak and Dancevic to their former caliber would provide an exciting combination next year.
As the 2010 tennis season comes to an end, there is much optimism for Canadian tennis. Marino and Raonic are finishing the calendar with poise, momentum and success – everything you want out of your best players.