Milos Raonic making history on Canadian tennis scene ahead of Wimbledon final
Thornhill, Ont. native is 1st Canadian to reach Grand Slam men's singles final
Milos Raonic is making history and other Canadian tennis players are taking notice.
The hard-serving player from Thornhill, Ont., will become the first Canadian man to play for a Grand Slam title when he takes on Andy Murray in Sunday's Wimbledon final.
Raonic got there in impressive fashion, beating Swiss superstar Roger Federer 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinal on Friday.
"It's something no one could ever have imagined 25 years ago when I started out," said Toronto's Daniel Nestor, an eight-time Grand Slam doubles champion. "Milos is remarkable because he has the desire to always improve and has done all the necessary things to be a complete player.
"If he plays like he did in first and fifth sets [against Federer], not only will he be Wimbledon champion but also No. 1 in the world at this time next year."
Raonic, seeded sixth at Wimbledon and ranked seventh in the world, is part of a blossoming tennis scene in Canada that also includes Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil (No. 44), and 22-year-old Eugenie Bouchard (No. 48) of Westmount, Que.
The 25-year-old Raonic had a career high ranking of No. 4 in May, 2015, Bouchard topped out at No. 5 after making the 2014 Wimbledon final and Pospisil, who won the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title, reached No. 25 in singles in January, 2014.
From the 1960s until into the 2000s, Canadians with hopes of international success would usually head south to Florida or California for training, or to American colleges on tennis scholarships.
The turnaround happened about 10 years ago when Louis Borfiga left the French Tennis Federation, where he had worked with players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon, to become Tennis Canada's vice president of high performance athlete development.
Borfiga, who's based in Montreal, helped arrange for former tour players to coach young Canadians: Spain's Galo Blanco for Raonic, France's Nathalie Tauziat for Bouchard, and France's Fred Fontang for Pospisil.
While Pospisil and Bouchard made early exits at this year's Wimbledon — Pospisil fell in the first round, Bouchard in the third — other Canadians have been making a run alongside Raonic.
Seventeen-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the boys semifinal on Friday. Then he and Canadian partner Felix Auger-Aliassime, who last year at 14 became the youngest player to ever hold an ATP singles ranking, downed Miomir Kecmanovic and Casper Ruud in the boys doubles semi.
"It's really inspiring to see Milos close up," Auger-Aliassime said. "A first Canadian in a (men's) Grand Slam final ... he's a model for us all. I really hope he can win the final.
"It's a big inspiration also to see Denis [Shapovalov] in the [boys] final on Sunday. There are really good things going on in Canadian tennis these days and we're all proud."
Raonic is known to closely follow the progress of Canada's next-generation players and told reporters at his post-match press conference on Friday that he had been watching Shapovalov's singles match before he went on Centre Court to face Federer.
"It's a pretty special recognition to the state of Canadian tennis and it's not just me," Raonic said. "There's many people that are doing well on this stage and the junior stages.
"There's a lot to look forward to, there's a lot of prospect, there's a lot of hope, there's a lot of positive future for Canadian tennis and it's great to be at the centre of that come Sunday. I'm glad that I've sort of been leading this charge, the first to break through ... but I'm by no means done."
With files from The Associated Press