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Canadian tennis hopes growing at Rogers Cup — but don’t bet the farm

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game

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Le Canadien Milos Raonic (no 4) s'est incliné devant l'Australien Marinko Matosevic 7-5, 7-6 (9/7) au troisième …

You don't hear much about Robert Bedard and Faye Urban, but they really should be as big a part of Canadian sports history as Pat Fletcher.

Fletcher, of course, is the guy whose name is disinterred every summer as the last Canadian to win the Canadian Open golf tournament. The winless streak is now at 59 years with no end in sight.

Urban is the last Canadian to win a singles title at the Canadian Open tennis tournament, now known as the Rogers Cup. She did that in 1969, 11 years after Bedard was the last Canadian man to win.

But unlike the game with the little white ball, the Rogers Cup does offer some hope for Canadians. In this case, it's Milos Raonic who has a shot at erasing that decades-long drought.

Raonic is ranked 13th in the world, a high-water mark for Canadian men. And the Rogers Cup could be the kind of tournament he needs to rise even higher.

Last week, Raonic talked about how important it was to have some time off the competitive circuit leading up to the Montreal tournament, which runs Aug. 3 to 11. It gave the 22-year-old time to work with his new coach, Ivan Ljubicic, for the first time since Raonic parted ways with Galo Blanco in June.

Things haven't gone well for Raonic since the coaching change, though the Grand Slam tournaments at Roland Garros and Wimbledon haven't been kind to him.

``This is really the first time we've had to work," Raonic told me, noting that he and Ljubicic are focusing on getting off to faster starts and dealing with tight situations at key moments during games.``I have to improve everywhere. I'm aware of that."

While the three weeks of intensive training should help him start on that long road, it's not realistic to expect him to take home any big cheques next week. No one makes improvements that quickly and there are many who believe that Raonic needs to do more than be more aggressive. His return of serve, for example, is one of the weakest in the game's upper echelon.

But a good showing at home might be what he needs to make that jump and eventually start threatening the big four who are dominating the game right now. If that happens, we might start talking about Raonic as a real Rogers Cup threat next year.

For now, you're looking at the usual suspects in Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with Juan Martin del Potro a dark-horse possibility.

As for the women, we're probably a couple of years away from that discussion. But there is hope in 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, who looked as composed as a 30-year-old at Wimbledon.

Bouchard is part of a new wave in Canadian tennis, with some impressive juniors and rookie pros giving tennis fans here more hope than they've had in decades.

There are few hopes this year, though. Serena Williams will likely win, unless the same kind of mental blip that cost her Wimbledon infects her brain in Toronto. Seeing that she's won six of her last seven tournaments, that's unlikely.

With Maria Sharapova out with a hip injury, the job of trying to beat Serena falls to Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska.

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