Monday, February 27, 2012

Raonic falls short in bid for second title in two weeks

   For all his physical and mental gifts, Milos Raonic lacks one thing.
   The 21-year-old Canadian standout has lost only twice this year, both times to crafty 30-year-old veterans.
   Jurgen Melzer became the latest player to outfox Raonic, winning 7-5, 7-6 (4) Sunday to take the title of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, Tenn.
   Raonic, 6-foot-5, is blessed with a percussive serve and forehand and an even temperament. But Melzer, an unseeded Austrian playing with a broken toe, rattled the fourth seed by periodically standing far back and jumping up and down like a prize fighter to return serve.
    Melzer, a 6-0 left-hander, also preyed on Raonic's less-dangerous two-handed backhand and transformed his size from a strength into a weakness with well-timed drop shots.
   Raonic lost his serve twice after getting broken only once en route to the final.
   "I'll learn much more from this (loss) than I would if the outcome was the other way," Raonic told reporters. "It doesn't matter what the outcome is. I just need to take the most I can from it. I'm young. There's a lot of space for improvement in my game, and that's what I have to look at in the next steps to get getter."
   Raonic had his nine-match winning streak (all in straight sets) stopped and fell to 15-2 this year. His other loss came to former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the third round of last month's Australian Open. Sports Illustrated reported that Raonic was "visibly shaken" when Hewitt "puffed his chest and stared at his young Canadian opponent" after leveling the match at one set apiece.
   For the second consecutive year, Raonic came within one victory of becoming the first player since his idol, Pete Sampras, to win back-to-back titles in San Jose and Memphis. Sampras accomplished the feat in 1996.
   "It's like somebody dangling a piece of cake in front of you and taking it away in the last second," Raonic said. "I'll definitely be back (in Memphis)."
    Melzer, who beat top-seeded John Isner (6-foot-9) in the quarterfinals, jumped 19 places to No. 19 in the world with the title. After reaching a career-high No. 8 last April, he was plagued by back trouble. Melzer broke his right big toe Feb. 16 when it got caught in a hotel bedspread.
   "If anybody would've said (Feb. 17), especially in the morning after seeing the doctor, that I'll be holding the trophy next Sunday, I would've called him a fool," said Melzer, who earned his fourth career title and first since 2010. "But sometimes, life plays games like that. Maybe it took a bit of the pressure off in the beginning."          

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