Local favourite Raonic ready for long-awaited return to National Bank Open in Toronto

TORONTO – With just four matches under his belt since returning to the ATP Tour a few months ago, Milos Raonic booked some top-shelf hitting partners to prepare for the National Bank Open.

The Canadian practised with Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner – all top-10 players – ahead of his first appearance at his hometown tournament since 2018.

“I felt I was able to do my things well,” Raonic said Sunday. “I don’t feel I’m that far off from playing tennis that was reminiscent from two or three years ago.

“But it doesn’t mean that those things just click and transfer to matches. I still have to continue working hard in those moments and hopefully those things do come together.”

Now 32, Raonic missed the better part of two seasons with lower-body injuries – an Achilles tendon issue was the main problem – before returning last June in the Netherlands.

Raonic beat then 39th-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic before falling in the second round. He also went 1-1 last month at Wimbledon.

Raonic, who grew up in nearby Thornhill, Ont., was handed a tough draw for his first-round match Monday night. He’ll face ninth-seeded American Frances Tiafoe – the top eight seeds got byes – on the Sobeys Stadium showcourt.

“I feel ready for it,” Raonic said. “I feel excited about it. I’ve done everything I could to this point to be ready for it and we’ll see where I’m at.”

Raonic won his first Tour title in 2011, two years before he became the first Canadian to crack the top 10 in the men’s singles rankings.

He reached the final of this tournament in 2013 at Montreal and made it to the Wimbledon final in 2016. Raonic has eight ATP Tour crowns on his resume but a Grand Slam or Masters 1000 title has so far proven elusive.

Currently at No. 546 due to his long absence, Raonic – a former world No. 3 – still gets main-draw entries thanks to his provisional ranking.

He has one of four wild-card spots in the 56-man singles draw at the US$7.62-million tournament, which runs through Aug. 13. The other berths went to Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo and Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C.

The lone Canadian left in the qualifying draw was eliminated Sunday. Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., dropped a 6-2, 6-1 decision to Australia’s Max Purcell.

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is the lone seeded Canadian at No. 10 in a field headlined by top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz of Spain. Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., recently withdrew with a knee injury.

The six-foot-five Raonic said he has dropped 40 pounds since the start of the year. He’s down to a trim 212 pounds.

“He’s in very good shape,” Sinner said. “Obviously when you don’t play many matches, it’s not easy. So hopefully he can (win) a couple of rounds here, which can help him.”

Raonic, known for his booming serve and powerful ground strokes, said the weight loss helped take pressure off his joints.

“Obviously it’s a fine line that you try to find between (not losing) power and not losing what is the essence of my tennis (and) what I need to do well to succeed,” he said.

“But I haven’t been under any kind of pressure from time or anything. When I started playing (in June), I had no ranking. I was able to just really focus on doing things as best as I could, in the right way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2023.

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