Oh Canada! There will be a homegrown player in Rogers Cup final

·Chris Zelkovich

Anybody who tells you they saw this coming is plainly and simply a liar.

For the first time since 1958, there will be a Canadian man in the final of the country's national tennis open. Even in Tennis Canada's wildest dreams, it likely didn't foresee this possibility.

Thanks to a bit of luck and a lot of tough-minded tennis, Canadians Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil will play in the semifinal of the Rogers Cup on Saturday. That assures a Canadian presence in the final for the first time since Robert Bedard won the event (then called the Canadian Open) in 1958. In fact, the last time a Canadian man made it even as far as the semifinals was in 1969 when Mike Belkin did it.

While he wouldn't admit to predicting this possibility, former Canadian pro Grant Connell says it shouldn't come as a total surprise.

``I think that we as Canadian tennis players and the tennis community should expect these sort of results from our players," said Connell, who joined Andrew Sznajder as the last Canadian men to even reach the semifinals when they did it 24 years ago. ``I think it's time to think bigger as Tennis Canada, under Michael Downey's guidance, has made great leaps in to a legitimate place amongst some of the best tennis playing countries."

Raonic is ranked 13th in the world and shouldn't have been considered a long shot to get this far. But he was because he has been playing pretty poor tennis the last few months, no doubt due in part to a mid-season coaching change.

But it has all fallen in place for the 22-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. at the Montreal tournament. After stunning world No. 7 Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday, Raonic outlasted 38-ranked Ernests Gulbis of Latvia on Friday in a match filled with drama.

It certainly wasn't easy. After winning the first set in a tiebreaker, Raonic made a bucket-load of unforced errors and fell 6-4 in the second. He appeared to be in control of the third, though continued to make too many unforced errors.

The worst of them came when he blew a great opportunity to sew things up early after the volatile Gulbis melted down.

The Latvian double-faulted four times to fall behind 3-1. But Roanic couldn't take advantage and handed things right back to him despite having serve. Just when it appeared that neither wanted to win, Raonic came back from a 15-40 deficit in the tenth game to take the match.

Raonic said reaching the semifinal and taking on another Canadian was ``an amazing feeling," but didn't want to put too much importance on the match against his Davis Cup teammate.

``It's a great thing," he told Sportsnet's Arash Madani. ``But at the end of the day, you've got to treat it as just another match."

Good luck on that, Milos. A stadium full of Canadians won't allow that to happen.

Pospisil was a lot more effusive after his win over Russian Nikolay Davydenko.

“I knew I was going in the right direction," he told ESPN, sporting a grin that demanded a wide-screen TV. ``It was just a matter of time. It's extra special to do it here in Montreal. I'm trying to ride the wave and see where it goes."

Critics might argue that the Pospisil wave has included plenty of luck. He was leading 3-0 in the first set Friday when Davydov walked off the court, explaining later that he was suffering from bronchitis. They also might argue that Raonic dodged a big bullet when Gulbis knocked off No. 2 seed Andy Murray.

But these things happen in tennis and Pospisil, ranked 71 in the world going into the tournament, opened a few eyes when he knocked off world No. 6 Thomas Berdych on Thursday. And no one can deny that Raonic was the better player against del Potro.

The real point is that the two Canadians played well when they had to, which may be something this country gets to see more often than it has in some time. As Connell pointed out, the likes of Raonic, Pospisil, Eugenie Bouchard and a wave other rising stars have ushered in a new wave of Canadian tennis.

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