WIMBLEDON, England -- Milos Raonic grew a little more Tuesday, inch by inch, point by point, game by game. We always knew he had talent. We always considered him Canada's tennis hope. Well, now we know he has toughness and determination, too.
Because here on the hallowed lawn of the All England Club, he battled the sixth-ranked player in the world through the longest three-set match in Olympic history, culminating in the longest set in Olympic history, a 48-game, 180-minute staring contest. In the three hours it took to play that third set, Canada won bronze medals in three other sports -- diving, judo and weightlifting - for its best day of the Games so far.
Raonic lost. He didn't take advantage of all the opportunities he created, and after four hours of tennis sandwiched around a two-hour, 40-minute rain delay, he fell to France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-3, 3-6, 25-23, leaving these Summer Games in the second round. But this was another step for the 21-year-old, an important step.
"I've been sort of knocking on the door," Raonic said. "Hopefully next time around I can sort of just kick it down and make the most of it and really try and sort of find my way through this. I think if I can get through one of these, I think it just opens up a lot more doors."
[Slideshow: Raonic's marathon loss to Tsonga]
Ranked 23rd, Raonic has shown flashes of the top-10 player people think he can be. He has upset some excellent players this year, including fourth-ranked Andy Murray, the hometown hero in the Olympic tennis tournament. He has held his own against Roger Federer, who has reclaimed his place at the top of the men's tennis world. But he has also disappointed at times, like a month ago in this same place, when he lost to American Sam Querrey in the second round at Wimbledon. He has never advanced past the fourth round of a major.
Raonic is still searching for his signature victory, but this might have been his signature match to date. It was a bit of redemption. He was supposed to represent Canada against Tsonga in February, at the Davis Cup in Vancouver, but pulled out because of a sore knee. He took criticism because he was healthy enough to win his sponsor's tournament a week later in San Jose, Calif., the site of his first ATP Tour victory a year earlier. And now he does this for Canada against Tsonga in the Olympics, and he does it here, where Tsonga just reached the Wimbledon semis for the second straight year?
Tsonga said he learned something about Raonic on Tuesday. We all did.
"I learned he can be really strong in his head," Tsonga said. "I didn't know he was able to play like this, never miss during many, many games."
Tsonga broke Raonic in the opening game. He didn't break him again until the final, decisive game, and rarely came even close. For the majority of the match, Raonic had the edge, controlling his serve, creating opportunities. He just couldn't make the next shot, the key shot. Tsonga went 2-for-5 on break points, Raonic 1-for-8.
"I felt like I was playing well, so there wasn't too much frustration," Raonic said. "Quite a few of them, he really took away my opportunities during the points. He just played too well. I didn't really have a chance to do anything."
The rain fell early in the third set with Tsonga leading, 2-1. The tarp came out and stayed out. Raonic showered, rested and waited, feeling good. When play resumed, the two heavy servers traded blows. Neither could break the other. Neither would give in. Raonic could have felt pressure because he had to keep holding serve to stay in the match, but Tsonga felt pressure because he had to break Raonic's serve to win.
"I think point after point, game after game, you don't think anymore," Tsonga said. "At 10-all, you know exactly what the guy's going to do and what you have to do. That's where I think at the end it's difficult to break the other guy. His serve is just perfect, and every shot he plays is perfect."
On and on they went. Trailing 16-15, Raonic faced a match point -- and saved it with a 222 kph bazooka of an ace. The temperature dipped. The sun began to set. The crowd buzzed, a few toddlers cried, and at one point, the chair umpire moaned: "Seventeen all." Trailing 21-20, Raonic faced another match point and got out of it. But by this point, finally, Tsonga had the edge. Raonic was holding on.
"The mental side just weighs down the body fatigue, just because of the fact that you feel like you go through so many opportunities and you feel like you're so close, but yet you feel so far at the same time," Raonic said. "And when it starts going the other way, like it did probably after 15-all, you just don't play as clean. You doubt a little bit more because you feel opportunity slipped away now. He's getting ahead. You wish maybe you could have converted a little bit earlier. So I think it's more mentally it makes your legs feel a little bit heavier."
Trailing 24-23, Raonic tried to hold serve again. A shot went long. Love-15. A shot hit the net cord, there was a quick rally and a shot hit the grass. Love-30. It was unraveling -- love-40, 15-40, a rally, a lob, a chase, a drop shot …
And just like that, it was over. Tsonga found enough energy to shout, flex his muscles and dance around the court. All Raonic could do was smile, wave, collect his belongings, walk off quickly and think about the next opportunity to seize, the next step.
"I think the difference is just going to come down to how I deal with the big points," Raonic said. "I think going into next time, I'll be better equipped. The question is, how much will it be next time that it really changes for me? Or will it be the time after that? I don't know."
No one knows. But we know more about Milos Raonic now.
More London Olympics coverage at Yahoo! Canada Sports:
- Photos: Canada at the Olympics, Day 4
- What to watch on Wednesday