Milos Raonic served his way into the finals of the Citi Open on an overcast Saturday afternoon and his compatriot Vasek Pospisil ratcheted himself into the semifinals.
If Pospisil succeeds on Saturday night in his semi against No. 14 Richard Gasquet, it will be an all-Canadian showdown in the American capital for the Citi Open title. The play of Raonic and Pospisil in general bodes well for the coming Rogers Cup in Toronto.
It was at Rogers Cup in Montreal last year where Raonic and Pospisil took major steps forward in tennis. The two reached the semis and faced each other. Raonic won before losing the final to Rafael Nadal – and both Canadians shot up the rankings, Pospisil to No. 40 from No. 71 and Raonic into the global elite, the top 10, a first for a Canadian man.
On Saturday in Washington, Raonic got the job done again as he has through this week but again it was not spectacular. He defeated Donald Young, the 25-year-old who was a teenage sensation growing up in Chicago, billed as a potential superstar when he became the youngest-ever junior world No. 1 at age 16 and five months. Young reached a professional high of No. 38 two years ago and currently stands No. 73.
Wayne Bryan, father of the doubles stars the Bryan twins, served as the on-court announcer, and his smiling personality shone through, introducing the Canadian as "the man with the monstrous serve, the mighty Milos Raonic!" Raonic lived up to billing – and got his serve up to 227 kilometres an hour in the first set on an ace, his biggest serve to date this week.
Raonic's problems were the same as earlier in the week, troubles putting away volleys and an inability to dominate on service returns. In three previous matches here, Raonic required tiebreaks the first five of six sets – winning them all – before he took a set without a tiebreak. Against Young, Raonic took time to gain advantage and it was 5-4 before he broke Young, mostly because of Young's own mistakes. The second set was similar. The men held serve until Raonic broke Young at the last moment, though this time it was his blistering returns that sealed the match: 6-4, 7-5.
"I'm getting better and better," said Raonic on Friday of his play this week. "I have a lot of belief in my serve. I know how hard it is to break me. It can be very demotivating for my opponents."
Washington would be the biggest title of Raonic's career, his first at the ATP 500 level. It would also be his first win this year. His last victory came last September in Bangkok, which was his fifth 250-level win. Toronto and then Cincinnati are ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, and thereafter is the U.S. Open. Raonic, after reaching the semifinal at Wimbledon in early July and losing to Roger Federer, feels his game is nearing what it will take to claim his first Grand Slam.
For Pospisil, his quarterfinal was a bifurcated win. The 24-year-old's match against Colombian Santiago Giraldo began late Friday night. Giraldo won the first set and Pospisil then rallied, winning the second set and the first two points of the third before the match was called for rain. Pospisil left the grounds at midnight and did not get to sleep at the W Hotel near the White House until 1:30 a.m.
He was back in Rock Creek Park at 11 a.m., arriving in a tournament-chauffeured white Lexus SUV, and headed directly to the players' gym. The match resumed at 1:19 p.m. and Pospisil, his momentum interrupted, managed to keep on the push. The players traded service games until Pospisil, up 5-4, produce the only break of the 53-minute final session and won 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4.
"The rain delay didn't help me," said Pospisil afterwards on Saturday – but felt he was "swinging freely" through the final set. For the afternoon, he planned rest and food. He has never had such an experience, ending one match early in the day and starting one in the evening. "It can be good and bad," he figured, a plus being fresh match experience, the minus being at least a bit physically drained compared with his opponent, No. 14 Gasquet.
Pospisil is poised. Earlier in the tournament he beat No. 5-ranked Tomas Berdych.
Pospisil's ranked reached No. 25 in January but he struggled with a wonky lower back. He was misdiagnosed several times and then found a doctor in Prague with innovative techniques. Pospisil has played well in recent months, buoyed by his victory in doubles with American Jack Sock at Wimbledon. Pospisil is currently No. 36 in singles.