Canadians impress but remain divided on Wimbledon's grass
LONDON (Reuters) - A few of the past Wimbledon champions watching this year's tournament would disagree, but big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic reckons grass courts do not allow for great tennis.
Raonic and compatriot Eugenie Bouchard, a fan of the grass, both advanced to the third round on Thursday, in what is now a regular strong showing at grand slams by Canadian players.
Boasting a game that looks tailor-made for the silky All England Club lawns, a monstrous first serve and clubbing groundstrokes, 23-year-old Raonic slammed the surface despite progressing further in the tournament than ever before.
"I don't think, really, that's it's a surface anybody can say they play their best tennis on," Raonic, who beat American Jack Sock 6-3 6-4 6-4, told reporters.
"I think it's a matter of playing less worse than you do on other surfaces."
Seasoned Wimbledon watchers would disagree, pointing rightly to the sublime entertainment served up by the likes of past masters John McEnroe and Boris Becker - both three-time champions here - and this year's fourth seed Roger Federer, who is gunning for an eighth Wimbledon title.
Raonic's occasional mixed doubles partner Bouchard is another who disagrees. The 20-year-old tipped as the next Maria Sharapova eased past Spaniard Silvia Soler-Espinosa 7-5 6-1 to demonstrate her grasscourt potential.
"When I'm not slipping and falling, I enjoy it," said Bouchard, who already has two grand slam semi-finals under her belt this year. "I think it suits my game and it rewards a player who takes it early and tries to move forward."
World No.13 Bouchard next faces Andrea Petkovic, the 26-year-old world No.20 who won the pair's previous encounter in Charleston this year.
Whether he likes the grass or not, Raonic is beginning to look the part on it. The tall world No.9 dominated the shorter Sock, serving 13 aces and hitting 40 winners.
In years gone by, a match between a Canadian and an American would have had only one outcome, but the tables are turning and Raonic is leading a new generation that also includes Vasek Pospisil.
Wimbledon aside, Raonic has reached the last 16 or beyond at the three other grand slams, chalking up his best result at a major with his quarter-final appearance at the French Open.
After winning six out of six sets so far this week - and with a match against unseeded Lukasz Kubot to come - he is now eyeing the second week of Wimbledon.
Montenegro-born, Toronto-raised and now resident in Monaco, Raonic has even helped Canada leapfrog the United States in the Davis Cup rankings.
His breakthrough into the top echelons of tennis has helped nurture the sport there, creating what he sees as the belief system necessary for success.
"Those days you're tired and you don't want to wake up, you got to go train, you got to go run, you got to do weights, you got to play on court for a few hours," he said.
"They seem a lot easier when you have a belief in the system because you see that somebody is already succeeding through that system."
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and David Goodman)