This year’s Wimbledon singles final, even in defeat, seemed to be just the beginning for top Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic.
Instead, not much good has happened since.
The latest setback for the 25-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. is an ankle sprain suffered early in his quarterfinal match Friday at the Beijing Open against Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain.
He managed to get through against Carreño Busta in straight sets. But Saturday night, for a semifinal showdown against unseeded Grigor Dimitrov that had a whole lot riding on it, he couldn’t answer the bell and had to default.
"Yesterday during my second match in the evening, I rolled over my ankle, obviously caused it some level of a sprain," Raonic said, per the ATP. "I did a test this morning, which showed I had a partial tear on the outside of my ankle. I was told to give it a try. I tried to warm up just before the match like I would normally, and I was unable to play. Therefore, it seemed to be the correct decision to have to withdraw from this match I was looking forward to this evening."
What was at stake? A lot.
Had he beaten Dimitrov, Raonic would have risen to a career-best ranking of No. 4, a summit he first reached in May 2015. As well, he would have officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals next month in London and therefore had all the pressure taken off with several big tournaments yet to come in the next few weeks.
(Note: Raonic ended up qualifying officially Sunday, after the final results of this week's tournaments, and the way the draw shook out in Shanghai).
It’s yet another post-Wimbledon setback; maybe we can call it the “Rio Curse.”
Raonic made a late decision not to represent his country at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He cited concerns over the Zika virus and then, a few days later, admitted he felt he needed to skip the quadrennial event and the extensive travel involved to better achieve the goals he set for himself.
Notably, that included making a serious run at the US Open, a tournament he likes on a surface that suits him extremely well.
It didn’t work out the way he planned.
Raonic played the Cincinnati Masters 1000 tournament the week after Rio, and did reach the semi-finals, losing to Andy Murray. But the US Open was a major disappointment.
Raonic looked unconvincing against German shotmaker Dustin Brown, who had suffered a nasty ankle sprain at the Olympics, had to retire from the match, and hadn’t played since.
He got through that one in straight sets despite not serving well but then came up against American qualifier Ryan Harrison, a feisty competitor the Canadian has some personal history with and doesn’t particularly enjoy playing. Two years younger, Harrison got the better of Raonic in their first two junior meetings, including in the first round of the 2008 junior French Open. He also defeated Raonic at Indian Wells a few years later in the pros.
After squeaking out a first-set tiebreak, an increasingly tense Raonic struggled physically; by the middle of the third set, he was dealing with cramps in several places and the rest of the match was a mere formality.
The Canadian said he couldn’t remember ever losing a match because of cramping. The conditions were warm but countryman Vasek Pospisil, who generally has major problems with the humidity, played on the same court right before Raonic did and had no issues. Raonic admitted afterwards that it was “probably just nerves and stress a mental sort of over exuberance rather than … probably more than it should.”
He announced that he couldn’t compete at Davis Cup in Halifax, which took place 2 1/2 weeks after the loss to Harrison, well in advance as he cited his ongoing recovery from the effects of the cramping.
As his teammates defeated Chile without him, Raonic flew to Russia, where he was the defending champion at the St. Petersburg Open.
In the first round against Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny, Raonic served for the match twice in the second set, but was broken on both occasions. He was up 5-1 and serving in the second-set tiebreak – and lost seven of the next eight points before going down in three sets. It was a shocking collapse from a player whose serve is his money-maker.
Raonic had a good draw in Beijing this week. No. 8 seed Richard Gasquet was eliminated in his section. And instead of having to face Rafael Nadal (whom he has defeated just once in seven attempts) on Saturday, he would have faced an opponent who has played three draining matches this week as he rediscovers some semblance of his former top-10 form.
After the two wins on Friday, Raonic's Facebook post indicated no concern about the ankle, although he did tell the media he would decide on his fitness to play before the Dimitrov match.
In the end, the ankle wouldn’t allow Raonic to compete.
The Beijing Open is not a Grand Slam. As a 500-series tournament with the much bigger Masters 1000 event coming up in Shanghai next week, the priority would be on next week.
Raonic will have a few extra days to heal; as the No. 5 seed, he has a first-round bye in Shanghai. He likely won’t have to take the court again until at least Tuesday. He's still in excellent shape in terms of trying to qualify for London – assuming the ankle heals quickly.