MONTREAL — This wasn’t the outcome Milos Raonic was hoping for at Rogers Cup. Not even close.
Up 4-1 in the second set of his second-round match against fellow countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime, Raonic walked gingerly to the sidelines, called for a trainer and lay down on his stomach to get some work done on his ailing back. Just 30 minutes later, after gutting through the injury and tying the match with a 6-3 win of the frame, he strolled over to his bag, packed it up and left the court — and Auger-Aliassime a winner by default.
"I’m feeling it in the back of my glute," a sullen Raonic said afterwards. "It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is at this point."
The native of Thornhill, Ont., had come to Montreal hoping to reverse the misfortune that saw him pull out of a semifinal match against Auger-Aliassime in Stuttgart, Germany in early June. The same misfortune that sidelined him in Delray Beach, Fla., and in Madrid, and in Rome, and in Paris, where a right-knee injury kept him from participating in the French Open.
"I’m still trying to find, like, the first tournament I can get through healthy this year," Raonic said on Monday of this week.
But it wasn’t meant to be for him in Montreal. And not even making it through two matches here is a crushing blow for the 2013 Rogers Cup finalist to absorb.
It was also a tough one delivered to fans at IGA Stadium, who were readying themselves for a dramatic third set of a match that featured high-quality tennis from both players.
Auger-Aliassime came out on fire—dominating the match in every facet of play through a brisk first set he took by a score of 6-3. He served up six aces, put 19 of 24 first serves into play and won 17 of those 19 points. He also put all kinds of pressure on Raonic’s serve, which clocked in at 224 kilometers per hour on multiple occasions and peaked at 228.
However, the 18-year-old Quebecer, who will celebrate his birthday on Thursday by taking on Russia’s Karen Khachanov for a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, was put to the test in the second set. And as his first serve percentage began to dip slightly, Raonic went on the offensive — rattling off booming forehands and breaking for a 3-1 lead he’d consolidate by holding at love.
Raonic was starting to look like the guy who had strung together a respectable 20-9 record through 2019, the guy who had made it to the quarterfinals or further in five of the 10 tournaments he had participated in this year.
But it was right about then that he finally asked for medical attention.
Up 5-2, Raonic had another consultation with a trainer on the sidelines. And after a long eighth game that forced Auger-Aliassime to fight off two set points, he settled in at 5-3 and ripped through the set-clinching game before quickly informing the chair umpire he was retiring due to injury.
"I felt generally sore in my back before the match started, but it wasn’t something I was too concerned about," the 28-year-old Raonic said. "Started sort of going down my leg pretty early into one of my service games. I think the one game, I don’t think I put many first serves in the game, I got broken. I think at that point it started. I started sort of feeling sort of a tweak. That started to progress more and more as the match went on."
Whatever hope the 19th-ranked player on the ATP Tour held that the pain would dissipate was squashed well before he gritted his way through his 93rd minute on court.
"Well, (the) last 30 minutes of that match, just because of the situation we’re playing in, being prime time night match here in Montreal, was probably the least enjoyable 30 minutes I’ve spent on a tennis court," said Raonic, who added he’s had four MRIs on his back since late June and been given a prognosis that he doesn’t have anything "extensively serious" to worry about.
With that, he leaves Montreal having failed to advance to the third-round of the Rogers Cup for a third consecutive year.
For Auger-Aliassime, who said he was happy to be moving forward, it was disappointing to be on the other side of this outcome — especially against a player he considers a close friend.
"I was pretty shook," the 6-foot-4 teenager said. "Didn’t really know how to react. But then a few seconds later it sunk in that, okay, he retired, he’s not going to play."
"In the end, to see Milos go out like that was not easy to see," Auger-Aliassime added. "So, yeah, I’m not going to try to make a whole big deal out of it. I think it’s things that just happen. It’s happened to me before. Sometimes it happens to the opponent.
"I think now it’s just time to focus on what’s ahead tomorrow."
It’s as the lone Canadian remaining in the draw that Auger-Aliassime will press on. He dispatched Vernon, B.C.’s Vasek Pospisil from the tournament in three sets on Tuesday and earlier on Wednesday watched Richmond Hill, Ont., native and good friend Denis Shapovalov fall 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to no. 4 in the world rankings Dominic Thiem.
The 21st-ranked Auger-Aliassime knows he’ll have his hands full with Khachanov, who’s currently no. 8 in the world rankings.
"He’s very good, very explosive, so I will need to impose my game on him," he said.
Even if Raonic had stuck out Wednesday’s match and made it to Thursday’s, he expressed serious doubt he’d even be able to play. Never mind impose his game.
Like we said, it’s a big disappointment in what’s been a difficult season health-wise for Canada’s top-ranked player.