TORONTO — Before Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil were born and when they weren’t yet old enough to hold tennis rackets, a generation of Swedes led by Stefan Edberg, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander swept the tennis world.
Now it might be Raonic and Pospisil’s turn to do the same as Canadians.
“I think there’s a chance now with the guys in Canada here that they can do the same journey,” Edberg said. “It should be a very exciting time for Canadian tennis going forward now.”
Considering Raonic beating Pospisil Sunday in the Citi Open was the first all-Canadian final in the history of the men’s tour, this journey is just getting started. What the match also illustrated is that Pospisil has a ways to go to catch up with Raonic, even though he’s showing signs of following him up the rankings.
Pospisil, who will face Richard Gasquet in the first round of the Rogers Cup on Tuesday, is ranked 27th in the world after reaching his first ATP final. Raonic is back up to his career high of sixth after winning his sixth title.
“For me, just seeing him, growing up with him and beating him when we were younger just motivated me a little bit and feeling I could do it, too,” Pospisil said Monday. “I have a lot of areas of my game that I need to work on and fully develop to reach the top 10.”
Raonic is still the standard for Pospisil and this new generation of Canadian men’s tennis players, but the Vancouver native is making strides, especially recently. A back injury contributed to a streak of eight consecutive losses from February through the French Open, and it took some time before Pospisil was 100 per cent again.
“I got healthy for the first time this year the week before Wimbledon, and then I built a pretty good momentum,” he said. “I felt every week I have been improving, and I feel like I’ve got a good groove now.”
Pospisil got his groove back during doubles play at Wimbledon when he and American partner Jack Sock won it all. Raonic said that doubles run might’ve given Pospisil “a perspective and a confidence to really be able to be playing this well that quickly.”
It has been what Pospisil has called a “pretty amazing couple of years” since being ranked in the 100s. The 24-year-old has improved so much in that period of time that Raonic and others can’t help but take notice.
“I think he’s just constantly getting better, and most importantly you see he’s playing consistently a lot of weeks making quarters and he’s beating the guys he should be,” said Raonic, who is set to play Wednesday night at Rexall Centre. “That’s the first steps you need to make. That’s how you can see that somebody is making progress in a developmental stage.”
Coming off a tiring week in Washington, Pospisil faces an immediate challenge at the Rogers Cup in the 12th-seeded Gasquet, whom he beat in the Citi Open semifinals. Pospisil used Monday to catch his breath because playing Tuesday is a difficult, quick turnaround.
“I’m a little bit tired but I won’t be tomorrow, just today,” Pospisil said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night or the night before. So right now I’m not feeling great, but I know tomorrow I’ll be fit.”
Even though Pospisil has just one victory in four matches in Toronto, he flashed a wide smile Monday when the topic of playing back home in Canada was brought up. Flash bulbs went off before he explained that excitement about the Rogers Cup served as inspiration over the past couple of weeks.
Pospisil’s lack of success here in the past is much more an indication of where has been, not where he is as a player right now. Still, he’s admittedly a work in progress.
“It’s an ongoing process over the course of the last 18 months and probably will be the same for years to come, just becoming a complete player all around and being aggressive and that’s the key,” Pospisil said. “I think that’s where I made my biggest jump was when I started being less passive on the court and especially in big moments, and you have to kind of play aggressive and go for it, as all these guys do.”
With his big, intimidating serve, Raonic is at the point where he’s measuring himself against the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Asked about his best matches of 2014, Raonic pointed to a loss to Djokovic as one of them.
It’s unlikely Pospisil will look back at Sunday’s 6-1, 6-4 drubbing at the hands of Raonic in the same way. No matter the opponent, his first final represented an early career milestone.
“I would have liked to have been on the winning end of that, obviously, but yeah, it’s another special moment for me because it was my first final,” Pospisil said. “The fact that I was playing another Canadian, Milos, made it more special for sure, I think especially for tennis fans in Canada. But, yeah, I think it’s more icing on the cake, I guess, for all the good results that we have been having these past few years in Canada.”
But the match did show a glimpse of what would be the best-case scenario for Pospisil and Raonic: more finals played between the budding rivals.