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Canada's Raonic outlasts No. 9 Tiafoe in opener at National Bank Open

Milos Raonic Milos Raonic

TORONTO — An unusual set-ending ruling didn't go Milos Raonic's way Monday night. The veteran Canadian made sure it didn't lead to his first-round exit at the National Bank Open.

Raonic overcame the decision and outlasted American Frances Tiafoe 6-7 (12), 7-6 (4), 6-3 in an epic opening night showdown at Sobeys Stadium.

"It doesn't matter how much you do the right things, you never know when things (will) click and things come together for you," Raonic said. "For me, it's incredibly special for it to be here."

It was a long-awaited triumphant return for the 32-year-old from nearby Thornhill, Ont.

This is Raonic's third tournament appearance since returning to the ATP Tour in June after an injury absence of nearly two years. He last played here in 2018 and the partisan crowd showed him the love at every turn.

Tiafoe broke the Canadian in the opening game but Raonic found his form later in the set. He touched 229 km/h with his first serve at times and kept pace with the fleet-footed American.

Raonic later broke back to set up a 20-minute tiebreaker. The Canadian had three chances to take the set, but it was Tiafoe who finally converted on his fifth set point.

On the deciding point, a Raonic return clipped the tape on top of the net, popped up in the air and bounced on Tiafoe's side.

The American lunged forward and made a cross-court winner. However, Tiafoe grabbed the top of the net as his momentum took him forward, which would normally cost him the point.

However, the chair umpire ruled in Tiafoe's favour and a second on-court official confirmed the decision.

A Tennis Canada statement from tournament referee Tony Cho explained the ruling: "Tiafoe touched the area between the singles stick and net post. This area is considered a permanent fixture so not part of the net."

Raonic said the original call went his way but the umpire changed his mind. The discussion then shifted to which part of the net was touched, he added.

"I don't have faith that they were being completely honest, but it is what it is," Raonic said. "I think they just handled it badly. Whatever the rule (was), I just don't think it was handled (well)."

The partisan crowd at Sobeys Stadium voiced its disapproval and Raonic smashed his racket on the player's bench.

Raonic was able to reset and didn't let the frustration affect his performance. His serve was his main weapon as he finished with a 37-8 edge in aces.

Raonic called an injury timeout late in the second set to get treatment on his lower back. In the decider, he jumped out to a 3-0 lead before comfortably nailing down his third win of the season.

"Good play and good fortune kind of got me through," he said.

The former world No. 3 holds the No. 545 position in the current rankings after his long absence from tour. Raonic has been able to use his protected ranking for main-draw entries.

It was his first win over a top-10 opponent in three years. He was just short of his career high for aces in a match (38 in a best-of-three, 39 in a best-of-five).

Raonic has one of four wild-card berths for this week's 56-man singles competition. He will face Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel in the next round.

Earlier Monday, Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., dropped a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 decision to Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo. In the late match, Italy's Matteo Arnaldi beat Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., 6-4, 6-4.

Tiafoe was the only seed to fall in the first round. American Tommy Paul, the No. 12 seed, beat Argentine qualifier Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 15 seed, topped Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik 6-3, 7-6 (2) and 16th-seeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti posted a 6-4, 6-1 win over Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka.

The Canadian team that won the Davis Cup last year was honoured during the opening ceremony.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2023.

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