Milos Raonic facing easier path to Rogers Cup title

Canada’s Milos Raonic doesn’t feel any type of relief now that world No. 2 Andy Murray won’t be in attendance at this week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto.

Raonic suffered his sixth straight defeat to Murray earlier this month in the final at Wimbledon. The Briton has beat Raonic four times this year, including the semifinals of the Australian Open, quarter-finals at Monte-Carlo and the finals at the Aegon Championships just before Wimbledon.

Despite the losing streak against the Scottish star, Raonic says that not having Murray in the field is more disappointing than comforting.

“I look forward to those things. I don’t look ahead but at the same time you want to face off against these guys,” Raonic said Sunday at Aviva Centre. “I’ve struggled with him, but at the same time, the best player in the world [Novak Djokovic] is still at this tournament. And if you want to do well, you’re going to have to try and find a way past him and many others.”

Vacancy opens a shot at title

The field at the Rogers Cup men’s tournament took a hit last week when Murray announced his withdrawal from the event because of fatigue. A day later, world No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 4 Rafael Nadal also withdrew.

It was a big blow to the field, especially with Murray winning the event three out of the last seven years, including in 2015 in Montreal.

But it also gives the 25-year-old Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., a sense of opportunity.

“I think it’s something you sense and something you try to capitalize on but at the same time there’s still many great players playing here and many guys that want to win,” Raonic said. “So you still have to fight and find you way and really pay attention to yourself and not think that is the solution to anything. You still have to try and find a way to win matches.

“I don’t think there is a difference really. I don’t think there’s a player that’s bigger than tournaments. Players have missed these kinds of tournaments and slams in the past and those tournaments have gone on.”

Djokovic on watch

Still remaining in the field is three-time Rogers Cup winner and world No. 1 Djokovic. The Serb captured the event in 2007, 2011 and 2012.

The 29-year-old Djokovic has six titles so far this season — including a victory over Raonic at the BNP Paribas Open in March — but is coming off a loss to Sam Querrey at the Wimbledon when the American upset him in four sets.

Djokovic said Sunday that Raonic, who reached his first career Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, is a player to watch in Toronto.

“I’m sure Milos is now more motivated than ever to really make that next step and try to get that Grand Slam title,” Djokovic said. “He’s definitely one of the players that we’re going to see a lot of in the future. He works very hard and has John McEnroe on his team so he’s really thriving to getting himself on and off the court.”

The six-foot-five Raonic enters this week as the tournament’s fourth seed and is 37-9 overall in 2016. That includes two wins over Federer, most recently in the semifinals at Wimbledon.

With the tennis schedule now switching from grass to hard courts, it could also be an advantage for the world No. 7 righty. Raonic is 17-3 on hard court this year but says there won’t be too many changes with his game.

“Maybe coming over the ball a little bit more when you come in rather than with a slice and just sort of where you position the volleys, but I wouldn’t want there to be too many changes,” Raonic said. “I think I’ll still have plenty of opportunities to come forward and I’ll probably have more opportunities to mix up my serve a little bit more, get more out of kick serves and try to sort of keep the guy guessing all the time.”

Notes: Vancouver’s Philip Bester and Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., missed out on Rogers Cup main draw berths after losing their matches in Sunday’s final day of qualifying. In Toronto, Bester fell Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez 6-1, 7-6 (4). In Montreal, Andreescu was defeated 6-2, 6-1 by Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko.