Few tennis players, if any, have had as much impact on Canadian tennis as Milos Raonic. If Canadian tennis is currently in its Golden Age, a straight line can be drawn from today’s success to the run of the Missile from Thornhill, ON.
While today, it is Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov at the forefront, they may not be here without Raonic. And they are still chasing much of his success.
The 2023 National Bank Open may very well be the 32-year-old’s swan song on home soil, almost certainly in his hometown. With that in mind, we pay tribute by looking back at the Canadian giant’s landmark achievements for the sport in this country.
For many, the first time they heard of Raonic was at the 2011 Australian Open when he came through qualifying to enter just his second Grand Slam main draw.
He then grabbed the opportunity by the horns, reaching the round of sixteen by taking out two seeds, including his first Top 10 win over No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny. In the fourth round, he even managed to take the opening set against No. 7 David Ferrer.
Just by reaching the fourth round, he matched the best result ever by a Canadian man at a Grand Slam in singles.
Over the next three years, Raonic would make three more fourth rounds at majors before finally breaking through at Roland-Garros in 2014, becoming the first Canadian man to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam.
A month later, he went one better by reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon. In the process, he became the first Canadian man to reach at least the fourth round of all four majors.
In total, Raonic reached ten Grand Slam quarter-finals. Three of those times he went a round further to reach the semis.
And then in 2016, he became the first and to-date only Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final, serving his way into the title match at Wimbledon. That run included a dramatic five-set win over the most successful man ever at the All-England Club, Roger Federer.
It often took a big effort to take out the Canadian deep in Slams. In eight of the 10 tournaments where he reached at least the quarter-finals, it was a member of the Big Four who ended his run.
Ending the Title Drought
When Raonic burst onto the scene in 2011, it had been nearly 16 years since a Canadian man won a title on the ATP World Tour. After Raonic reached the last sixteen in Melbourne, expectations were high that the drought would soon end.
Canadian fans did not have to wait long.
In just his second event after the Australian Open, the Missile blew through the draw in San Jose, an event fittingly played in a hockey rink, to end the nation’s wait for a male singles champion on the ATP Tour.
Raonic did not drop a set and capped off his maiden title run with his second Top 10 win of the year over No. 9 Fernando Verdasco.
After Canada waited almost 16 years for a champion, the Thornhill-native would raise eight trophies over the next five years, still the most by a Canadian, male or female. In 2014, he became the first to win an ATP 500 event, still tied for the biggest singles title ever won by a Canadian man.
In 2013, he also became the first Canadian man to reach the final of a Masters 1000 event, the first of four in his career.
Setting the Bar High
While Canada had had Top 10 players on the women’s side, when Raonic showed up no Canadian man had even been ranked inside the Top 30.
His success early in 2011 quickly made him the highest-ranked Canadian man ever. He became the first to reach the Top 30 in April of that year, with his peak being No. 25 in June. From that point onwards, every Raonic landmark was a first for his country.
Fittingly, it was a quarter-final run at home in Toronto that saw Raonic crack the Top 20 for the first time in August 2012.
The next big step again came on home soil when he reached the final in Montreal a year later. It was a dramatic win in the all-Canadian semifinal with Vasek Pospisil that sent Raonic into the Top 10 for the first time.
He finished that season at No. 11 but re-entered the Top 10 in early April 2014 and would spend nearly the entire next three and a half years among the world’s best.
After being stuck at No. 6 for three months, Raonic finally cracked the Top Five with a quarter-final run in Madrid in May 2015.
2016 was Raonic’s best year on the tour and it ended on the highest of notes. He reached the semifinal of the ATP Finals which propelled him to finish the year ranked No. 3 in the world. Not only was it his career-high, it remains the highest singles ranking by any Canadian, male or female.
For Love of Country
Early in his career, Raonic, who was born in Montenegro but moved to Canada when he was three, regularly had to face the question from the media as to whether he would continue to represent Canada or would switch allegiances, as Greg Rusedski, the last Canadian to win an ATP Tour singles title, did in the 1990s.
Not only was Raonic’s oral answer always an emphatic “no,” his on-court play for his country further cemented the point.
Raonic often saved his best for the National Bank Open. It was the site of some of his greatest successes.
Before he truly entered the public consciousness in 2011, he made a splash in Toronto in 2010 when he and Vasek Pospisil teamed up to defeat the superstar doubles squad of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
In 2012 and 2013, it was his runs at the National Bank Open that propelled him to new rankings milestones.
2013 in particular stands as one of the greatest achievements of Raonic’s career. He became the first Canadian man in 55 years to reach the final, beating such big names players of the day as Mikhail Youzhny, Ernests Gulbis, and then-world No. 6 Juan Martin Del Potro on his way to the final, the first Canadian since Robert Bedard in 1958 to reach the title match. While he did lose to Nadal, it was still a monumental moment for Canadian tennis.
It was not just ATP Tour events on home soil where Raonic shone. During his prime years, he was a regular on the Canadian Davis Cup team and helped reestablish them as contenders in the competition.
During his breakout 2011 year, he played a key role in getting Canada back to the World Group first the first time since 2004.
Then in 2013, he put the team on his back to lead them to the semifinals for the first time in a century. Raonic won his first five singles matches in Davis Cup competition that year which were critical for Canada’s wins over Spain and Italy and even put the nation ahead against Serbia before Djokovic put an end to the run.
While Raonic was not a part of the team that eventually finished the job in 2022, he laid the groundwork by putting Canada back on the map in the first half of the 2010s.
The ATP's best return to Toronto this summer for the National Bank Open August 5 to 13 at Sobeys Stadium. Tickets are on sale. Get your tickets today!