Canadian Milos Raonic was taught a lesson by Richard Gasquet on Monday night in their fourth-round match at the U.S. Open in New York and will need to improve in three key areas if he wants to succeed in the upcoming Davis Cup semifinals against Serbia.
It was an appropriate match for Labour Day.
A marathon that lasted four hours and 40 minutes; the longest of the U.S. Open up until that point.
It was also timely, in that it occurred on the eve of kids returning to school.
Milos Raonic was taught a lesson by Richard Gasquet on Monday night in a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (9), 7-5 dramatic loss.
When Raonic changed coaches a couple of months ago, one of the priorities for his new coach, Ivan Ljubicic, was to attack his opponents.
At his height, Raonic has the potential to be deadly at the net.
Against Gasquet, Raonic at one point was 10-for-10 in such circumstances. But as the match wore on, Milos did too.
Seemingly too tired to approach the net, he opted rather to exchange ground strokes from the baseline.
Raonic's forehand is like his serve, powerful and accurate. Unlike his serve, however, he doesn't always use it to attack his opponents.
As the match continued, it seemed more and more that the 22-year-old was just trying to keep the rallies going rather than trying to hit winners.
Where is Milos' killer instinct?
Raonic could have won the match in three sets, yet, when he had Gasquet against the ropes, he failed to knock him down.
In the second set tiebreaker Gasquet did not so much win it as Raonic lost it with unforced errors.
Raonic had match point in the fourth set and it was not a winner from Gasquet, but a rare Raonic backhand hit long that prevented his winning.
More troublingly, at the end of the match, his ready smile for the player that had just defeated him in the fourth round of a tennis major seemed to suggest Raonic was happy just to make it through the marathon.
Canadian tennis fans should hope that Raonic will have an "ah-ha" moment like his role model Pete Sampras had at Flushing Meadows.
In 1992 Sampras lost the U.S. Open final to Stefan Edberg. It was a match that changed his career.
Rather than accept defeat in an even-keeled way as he had before, the loss ate away at him.
" I didn't dig deep. I didn't fight hard. I felt mentally I just sort of gave up," Sampras said later. "It just sort of woke me up to 'I do hate to lose.' From that point on, if I was going to lose a tennis match, it wasn't going to be because I gave up, but because I was outplayed or I didn't play well. It changed everything, that one loss..."
Sampras was just shy of his 22nd birthday at the time. Raonic is now 22.
The prospect of a transcendent moment like that for Raonic is a tantalizing one, because most of the other tools seem to be in place.
His serve during the tournament was dominant. 104 aces in four matches led all competitors. His fastest serve topped out at 233 kph, quicker than anyone at Flushing Meadows.
Against Gasquet it was not just his serve (39 aces to 6), but his ability to hit winners (102 to Gasquet's 45).
The problem is he was almost as dominant when it came to unforced errors (80 to 36). Part of that was fatigue against an opponent with some of the sweetest ground strokes in the game, and part of it was mental toughness in a pressure-filled tournament with mounting expectations.
Later this month in Belgrade, those expectations will be even greater. His opponents, World number one Novak Djokovic at least, will be even better.
Scott RegehrScott Regehr can be heard weekday mornings across the country as CBC's national sports host. Since 1999, Scott has been a reporter, host and associate producer for CBC Radio and Television in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Whitehorse (where he was born). He has hosted CBC radio's coverage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada and the Women's World Cup in China.
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