By Mike McIntyre
I'll never forget the Rogers Cup from 2010. It was a glimpse into the future for Canadian tennis fans who were starved for some home grown talent to root for. In a night time doubles match on Centre Court, two youngsters by the names of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil took to the court to face the top two players in the world who had formed a superstar tandem as they began their summer hardcourt swing. While most expected Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to cruise through the match, the upstart Canadians had something else in mind and delivered a stunning 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 victory. It was a sign of things to come.
Raonic would be the first to excel on the ATP World Tour and his Wimbledon final appearance in 2016 remains the highlight of his career to date. When Federer and Nadal began to falter a few years back, it seemed as though Raonic would be one of the next generation of players to perhaps start to regularly challenge for some Grand Slam titles. Instead, injuries have become a regular occurrence for the now 27 year old who seems unable to get through a season without dealing with multiple betrayals from his own body.
Pospisil never had the weapon like Raonic had with his serve, but still pushed his way up the rankings to a career-high of No. 25 in the World back in 2014. He won the Wimbledon doubles titles that same year and a year later also made it to the quarterfinals at the All-England Club in singles. Since that time however his doubles ranking has all but disappeared as he has chosen to focus on his singles game, which has returned to the top 100 in 2018 but seems unable to get much higher than that.
The first two career meetings between Raonic and Pospisil were both important marks in their developing careers. In 2013 they clashed for a spot in the Rogers Cup finals in Montreal with Raonic prevailing 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4). A year later the two played in the first-ever all-Canadian men's singles final on the tour with Raonic again the victor by a score of 6-1, 6-4. At the time Canadian tennis fans likely felt they were on the verge of something special, expecting many more great duels between the two. Unfortunately that has not come to fruition, and the meeting on Wednesday in Antwerp feels rather anti-climactic between two players who seem to have flat-lined in their progress.
Instead it seems like most of the hype in Canada has turned to rising stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. The two teenagers will be counted on to hold the torch for Tennis Canada in the future both as competitors and teammates in Davis Cup and hopefully Olympic action as well. For today however, we'll see if Raonic and Pospisil can remind us that they still matter and that better days lie ahead.