Raonic gets off to good start at Indian Wells

Rising Canadian star Milos Raonic won the first Masters 1000 match of his career Friday, advancing to the second round of the BNP Paribas Open with a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) win over Marsel Ilhan of Turkey.

Milos Raonic wants to do his bit to shine the spotlight on tennis in Canada.

"I noticed when I was walking off the court that there were a lot of Canadians in the crowd," the 20-year-old rising star from Thornhill, Ont., said Friday after a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) first-round win over Turkey's Marsel Ilhan at the BNP Parisbas Open.

"I heard people saying 'I'm Canadian. I'm here. I came down to watch you.' It means a lot."

"I'm doing what I want to be doing, starting to be an ambassador for tennis in Canada and to help the sport grow. If people are coming down here for me, for Dan (Nestor), for the rest of the players, for Rebecca (Marino) , it means a lot. It means that tennis development and tennis growth is going in the right way in Canada."

Raonic said he wants to help that growth so more kids turn to tennis.

"Even further down the road, the goal would be all those tremendous talents and athletes you have going into hockey, if they could see really a successful road towards tennis in Canada, they might come this way. There really are some spectacular Canadian athletes, like Crosby, for example, Gretzky."

Raonic added more lustre to his growing reputation as he won the first Masters 1000 match of his career Friday, to set up a second-round matchup with American Mardy Fish, seeded 13th.

Indian Wells is the first of nine Masters 1000 tournaments, the ATP's second level of top-tier events after the Grand Slam tournaments and World Tour finals.

Raonic had some minor troubles in closing out the victory after letting an early break in the second set get away. The hard-serving Canadian eventually closed it out in a tiebreaker.

Raonic is competing in his first Masters event outside of Canada, where he lost at the Rogers Cup in 2009 and 2010.

Amid his explosion of form since the start of the season, Raonic has turned into an ATP notable, winning for the 11th time in his past 12 matches to improve to 13-5 on the season.

Still, Raonic had some complaints about his serve Friday.

"I didn't serve that well today, but I feel compared to Memphis and San Jose I'm playing another level from the baseline.

"I feel like it just gives me a lot more comfort that I'm improving that aspect.

Raonic, ranked 37th in the world, managed a modest 10 aces against Ilhan. Ranked No. 120, the Turk dropped to 0-9 this year between ATP and Challengers levels.

Raonic saved two of the three break points he faced while breaking three times in a contest lasting just under 90 minutes in blazing sunny conditions.

"I don't focus so much on results because you don't know what can happen," said Raonic, "I just try to focus on things I can, and my progress and development is one of those things.

"As far as everything else is coming together, with the pressure, I know I'll always be the one to put more pressure on myself than anybody else. I've been expecting a lot from myself. I have been doing a lot of good things, and I hope to keep doing a lot more."


BNP Paribas Open Roundup

Meanwhile, Daniel Nestor and Belarusian partner Max Mirnyi lost to the all-star, one-off pairing of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2 in just 49 minutes.

Wawrinka and Federer broke Nestor and Mirnyi once each in the final set, with Wawrinka serving out the quick win with an ace.

Nestor, a Toronto native, continued an odd-year tradition of first-round losses at Indian Wells dating back to 2009 and 2007. Nestor won the Indian Wells event in 2005 and played in the finals last year and in 2008.

Federer and Wawrinka, the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist, have teamed to prepare for Davis Cup in July as they play together for the first time in nearly two years.

In women's singles, Jelena Jankovic opened her title defence with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Coco Vandeweghe in the second round.

"I didn't really know what to expect," said Jankovic, who beat current No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki for the 2010 title. "I knew that she kind of has a really big serve. She serves well and she hits her first shot, but there wasn't a lot of rhythm out there. The points were very short so all I had to do was get the ball in play and kind of wait for my chances, and that's basically what I did.

"I tried to make her hit a lot of balls and tried to rush her serve and start the point, and she made a lot of mistakes."

Kim Clijsters, the No. 2 seed who won at Indian Wells in 2003 and 2005, began moving toward what she hopes will be her sixth straight final appearance by overwhelming Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2, 6-0 in 51 minutes.

No. 3 Vera Zvonareva squandered a 5-1 lead in the second set before beating Timea Bacsinszky 6-3, 7-6 (4); No. 5 Francesca Schiavone topped Zuzana Ondraskova 6-2, 6-0; and No. 15 Marion Bartoli rallied from a set down to oust Monica Niculescu 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. Yanina Wickmayer eliminated Melanie Oudin 6-4, 6-3.