MONTREAL — Milos Raonic called it a learning experience.
It certainly wasn’t the victory party the Uniprix Stadium crowd was hoping for as Rafael Nadal took only one hour eight minutes to down Canada’s top tennis player 6-2, 6-2 in the US$3.49 million Rogers Cup final on Sunday.
But it had taken 55 years for a Canadian just to get to the final of the country’s biggest tournament, so Raonic had much to celebrate despite the defeat.
For one, by reaching the final he will be ranked 10th in the world when the next rankings appear Monday morning, making him the first Canadian to crack the top-10. He will be the youngest player in the top 10 as well.
“The tournament overall was a great thing,” the 22-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., said. “There were a lot of situations that I’m very happy with the way I dealt with them, and there were a lot of learning experiences through it all.
“A lot of stepping stones that I need to do in my career happened this week, so that’s great. The match, obviously I’m a little disappointed with myself. I would have hoped to deal with that situation a little bit better.”
The last Canadian to reach the final of what was then called the Canadian Open, the now 81-year-old Robert Bedard of Sherbrooke, Que., was among the more than 11,000 at centre court to see the power-serving Raonic meticulously taken apart by fourth-seeded Nadal’s service returns and brilliant baseline play.
Nadal, one of the world’s best who was playing for the first time since his first-round loss at Wimbledon in June, posted his eighth tournament win this year and the 58th of his career.
He sees Raonic as one of the rising talents in the sport.
“With his serve, his chance to be in the top 10 for a long time is very good,” the Spaniard said.
“Then what you need is to work on the mental part and in the game from the baseline, to try to play the right way on the important points.
“I think he will do it. He’s still young. He’s having great results. This week is going to be very important for him and for tennis in Canada in general.”
It was an unprecedented week for Canada, which already reached a milestone in April when it defeated Italy to make the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time.
Of the six Canadians in the Rogers Cup main draw, a record five got to the second round.
Then Raonic and Vernon, B.C., native Vasek Pospisil became the first two Canadians to make the semifinals of an ATP Tour tournament since Andrew Sznajder and Martin Wostenholme in 1990 in Rio de Janeiro.
They played each other in a semifinal, a cliffhanger that went to a third-set tiebreaker.
So the one-sided loss in the final stung, but it was still a big week as he made the final for the first time in a Masters series event, one level below the grand slams.
Raonic had worn different coloured Davis Cup-style shirts with a maple leaf over the heart all week, but saved a red-and-white one for the final.
When he walked onto the court, he got a standing ovation.
“That was one of the most special feelings I’ve had in my career to this date,” he said. “I even got a little bit of goosebumps from that. I’m very, very grateful to have that memory and that experience here.”
The crowd stayed with him despite the beating.
Nadal had two service breaks in a quick first set, including one game that Raonic led 40-0. The Canadian wasted three break points on Nadal’s serve in the fourth game of the second set and saw his chance to make a contest of it slip away.
His best weapon, his serve, was not on form. He got only 50 per cent of his first serves in, and had only four aces.
“I was trying more to serve hard rather than hitting spots,” he said. “I wasn’t getting the percentages I needed on my first serve.
“Obviously, (Nadal) was playing great. He wasn’t making many errors, if any. But at some points, I wasn’t making him play enough, or waiting for the right shot. I think I was rushing a lot in the first set and a half.
“But you live and learn. It’s an experience I can learn a lot from and I’m sure I will.”
Asked to comment on Raonic, Bedard says he has a bright future but needs to work on his game.
“His return of serve is his weakness, for sure,” said Bedard, who still plays doubles a few times per week. “He relies too much on his serve.
“If I were his coach, and I’m not close to that, I wouldn’t let him serve for a while and just make him play and improve on the other shots that he has. One thing he might not be able to improve as much as he should, as much as Pospisil will, is that his mobility is not that great. But that can improve also.”
Nadal, who is 4-0 against Raonic in his career, won $547,300, while Raonic took in $268,350.
Nadal stretched his record for wins in Masters series tournaments to 25 with his fourth this year. He is 48-3 and has reached the final of 10 out of 11 tournaments played in 2013.
Raonic and Pospisil are slated to play this week in Cincinnati.