Milos Raonic gets by Nikolay Davydenko to begin Madrid Open
Sets up match with rival Fernando Verdasco
Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic won a tight two-set match on Monday over veteran Nikolay Davydenko at the Madrid Open.
The Thornhill, Ont., native won by scores of 7-5, 7-6 (5) over the Russian despite having some trouble getting his first serve into play.
"I didn't play my best but I got through," Raonic said after serving only six aces in a match lasting just over 90 minutes. "I had to make the most of my game.
"I didn't serve that well but I still managed to take care of my serve. Late in both sets I stepped up my return game. I just made it through."
Also Monday, Ottawa's Jesse Levine lost in his opener against Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2 in 53 minutes a the South African dominated with 11 aces and four breaks of serve.
Raonic is playing his third spring event on clay after winning a round in Monte Carlo and advancing the Barcelona semifinals, where he lost to Rafael Nadal in heavy, wet conditions. He's trying to get his clay-court game ready for the French Open, which starts May 26. Raonic reached the third round of the Grand Slam event in 2012.
The 22-year-old Raonic needed 47 minutes to get through the opening set against Davydenko. The former World No. 3 saved a set point in the final game before Raonic popped a forehand winner deep into the corner to secure the lead.
"Davydenko's has been around and knows how to win," Raonic said. "He has a lot of experience — which I don't have — and that gives him something extra."
He finally put the game away in a second-set tiebreaker, scoring on a forehand deep into the corner on second match point.
Up next is Fernando Verdasco, who in 2011 had critical words for Raonic after losing twice to him on hardcourts.
"I hope to play soon against him in clay court to show him what it is to play tennis, and play rallies, and run, and not [just] serve," Verdasco said at the time.
The Spaniard beat Raonic in two subsequent matches on clay, and 10 of his 17 career ATP finals have come on the surface.
"It's been two years since we played and I think I'm a better clay player than I was back then," Raonic said. "But the first thing is that I must play better than I did today. That's a key part to everything."
Sharapova on higher ground
Maria Sharapova rallied from a break down in the first set to beat Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 7-5, 6-2 Monday and reach the second round of the Madrid Open.
The second-seeded Russian said she was still adjusting to changing weather conditions in Madrid and "the altitude as well" after winning the title in Stuttgart last weekend. Madrid is 660 metres (2,180 feet) above sea level.
"It was a tough match," Sharapova said. "I was really happy that I got that break back in the first set and was able to win in two sets."
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus also advanced, outlasting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-6 (8), 7-6 (3).
Azarenka, who finished runner-up in Madrid the last two years, is returning from an ankle injury and said it was good to get a tough test right away.
"I don't think I could have asked for a better match to start after a break," she said.
The third-ranked Azarenka broke to go up 4-3 in the first set before Pavlyuchenkova broke back. Azarenka then saved three set points at 6-3 down in the tiebreaker.
"When you don't play so much, you kind of lose that momentum," she said. "In the tiebreak I just tried to find my game to find the solution to make things happen for me."
Laura Robson of Britain pulled off the first upset of the tournament, convincingly beating fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-3, 6-1 in a second-round match.
The 19-year-old Robson arrived in Spain coming off her sixth first-round loss of the year at the Portugal Open but was able to capitalize on her break points against last year's Wimbledon finalist.
In the men's event, 11th-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain advanced when Tobias Kamke of Germany retired injured after losing the first set 6-4. American John Isner and Japan's Kei Nishikori were among other first-round winners.
The top-seeded players in the men's draw, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, have a bye into the second round.
With files from CBCSports.ca & The Associated Press