Sunday, February 10, 2013

Raonic could go undefeated in San Jose ... for life

   Milos Raonic finds himself in a unique situation heading into next week's SAP Open in San Jose.
Milos Raonic seeks his third straight SAP Open title
in San Jose. Photo by Paul Bauman

   If the 22-year-old Canadian wins the title as the top seed, he will have gone undefeated in the tournament -- probably forever. Raonic, 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters), is bidding for his third consecutive SAP Open crown in as many appearances at HP Pavilion. He was unseeded in 2011 and seeded third in 2012.
   With a first-round bye, Raonic needs to win four matches to hoist the trophy again. That would give him a 13-0 record in the tournament, which will be replaced on the calendar by Rio de Janeiro beginning next year after 125 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has never even lost a set in the SAP Open, winning all eight tiebreakers he has played.
   Raonic could become the first player to win three straight titles in the Bay Area tournament since International Tennis Hall of Famer Tony Trabert from 1953 to 1955. Among those who have won two in a row are John McEnroe (1978-79), Pete Sampras (1996-97), Andy Roddick (2004-05) and Andy Murray (2006-07). Andre Agassi equaled McEnroe's modern record of five championships, but none came consecutively.
   "It would be something special," Raonic, the youngest player in the top 20 at No. 13, said during a recent conference call. "I don't think people can say really too often that they've gone sort of undefeated at one event. It would be something pretty awesome to be able to do that.
   "It's a long ways to that, but I feel ready, and I just have to keep focusing on it and make the most of those opportunities."
    You don't have to be Brad Gilbert to figure out why Raonic has excelled in the SAP Open, the only North American ATP tournament held in a sports arena.
   He feels comfortable there. It's near Canada, but without the pressure and distractions of playing there, and in another English-speaking country. And although Raonic might be the only Canadian man who's not a hockey fanatic, HP Pavilion is the home of the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League.
   Also, there's no wind or sun to impede Raonic's pulverizing serve. He finished second last year with 1,002 aces, three behind 6-foot-10 (2.06-meter) John Isner, who's seeded second in the SAP Open.
   Meanwhile, the field in the tournament, at the lowest tier on the ATP World Tour, has been less than stellar. In the past two years, the only top-10 player to enter was No. 9 Fernando Verdasco of Spain in 2011. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never played in the SAP Open, and Murray hasn't returned since 2007.
   Raonic added that the timing of the San Jose and Memphis tournaments benefits him. He has finished as the runner-up in Memphis, another indoor tournament held the week after the SAP Open, for the past two years in his only appearances there.
   "The conditions are good for me," he said. "But I think I've really pushed myself, and I work really hard during the offseason. That gives me a lot of confidence. Those tournaments come up right after I get some matches in (during the Australian Open and its warmup tournaments), as well. So it's just sort of the timing of it and the work I put in. It starts clicking at those events. That's paid off for me the most."
    It's difficult to see anyone besides possibly third-seeded Sam Querrey, a native of nearby San Francisco, halting Raonic's winning streak in the SAP Open. Isner isn't match tough after missing the Australian Open with a knee injury and going 1-1 against visiting Brazil in the Davis Cup last weekend.
   Fourth-seeded Tommy Haas, a German-born U.S. citizen, is 34. The fifth-seeded Verdasco is 29 and hasn't won a title in almost three years. Sixth-seeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan lost 7-6 (3), 6-2 to Raonic in last year's SAP Open final. Seventh-seeded Marinko Matosevic of Australia has never won an ATP title, and eighth-seeded Xavier Malisse of Belgium is 32.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Querrey, however, is 2-0 lifetime against Raonic. They could meet in the semifinals. Both players led their countries to victory on home soil in the first round of the Davis Cup last weekend, winning both of their singles matches.
   Querrey has had mixed results in the SAP Open. He came within a tiebreaker against Andy Roddick of reaching the 2010 final and won the doubles title that year with Mardy Fish. However, Querrey has lost in the first round of singles the past two years.    
   The impending demise of the SAP Open, which uses only one court at HP Pavilion, is "unfortunate," Raonic said. "I think it's a very unique tournament. It's definitely different from the setup of most other events. It's a setup I like. It's an indoor event, which we have a lot of on the tour, but to play in the kind of stadium they set it up in, for me it's been a lot of good memories there."
Singles qualifying
First round
   Tim Smyczek (1), U.S., def. William Boe-Wiegaard, U.S., 6-2, 6-4. Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, def. Robin Kern, Germany, 7-5, 6-3. Erik Chvojka, Canada, def. Chase Buchanan, U.S., 7-5, 6-2. Nicolas Meister, U.S., def. Jimmy Wang (6), Taiwan, 6-4, 6-4. Alex Bogomolov Jr. (2), Russia, def. Pierre-Hugues Herbert, France, 6-4, 6-4. Dennis Lajola, U.S., def. Takanyi Garanganga, Zimbabwe, 6-4, 4-3, ret. Chris Wettengel, U.S., def. Gregory Ouellette, U.S., 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4). Ryan Sweeting (5), U.S., def. Marek Michalicka, Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-0.
   Denis Kudla (3), U.S., def. Denis Zivkovic, U.S., 6-1, 6-4. Nicholas Monroe, U.S., def. Daniel Kosakowski, U.S., 3-6, 6-0, 6-1. Simon Stadler, Germany, def. Izak Van der Merwe, South Africa, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Donald Young (7), U.S., def. Denny Fafek, U.S., 6-4, 6-4. Illya Marchenko, Ukraine, def. Boris Nicola Bakalov, Bulgaria, 6-4, 6-0. Jason Jung, U.S., def. Prakash Amritraj, India, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. Rik de Voest, South Africa, def. Luka Gregorc, Slovenia, 6-3, 6-3. Robert Farah (8), Colombia, def. Kevin Kim, U.S., 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Today's schedule
(Beginning at 10 a.m.)
Courtside Club 16
   Bogomolov Jr. (2) vs. Lajola, Smyczek (1) vs. Molchanov, Kudla (3) vs. Monroe, Marchenko (4) vs. Jung, De Voest vs. Farah (8).
Courtside Club 18
   Wettengel vs. Sweeting (5), Chvojka vs. Meister, Stadler vs. Young (7).     
   No. 2 USC (9-0) def. No. 19 Stanford (3-4) 6-1 in Los Angeles.
   No. 3 UCLA (7-0) def. No. 13 Cal (3-2) 6-1 in Los Angeles.
   No. 50 BYU (7-2) def. No. 33 Santa Clara (5-3) 4-3 in Provo, Utah.
   No. 6 Georgia (3-0) def. No. 7 Cal (4-1) 4-1 in the quarterfinals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va.
   No. 69 Oregon (7-0) def. UC Davis (1-5) 5-2 in Eugene, Ore.
   San Jose State (5-2) def. Santa Clara (2-3) 4-3 in Santa Clara.
   Fresno State (3-2) def. San Francisco (3-2) 6-1 in San Francisco.

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