Another Step Forward
It won't always be this way for Milos Raonic in the wake of defeat, so he better enjoy it while he can.
For now, however, there are victories even in losses, as was the case Tuesday night in his hard-fought match against Switzerland's Roger Federer at Indian Wells.
Federer, winner of 16 Grand Slams and still No. 3 in the world, needed all his ammunition to outlast the Maple Leaf Missile in a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 triumph that was the latest piece of hard evidence that Raonic can now compete with the best in the world.
At some point, Raonic will have to break through in one of these big tournaments after being to a number of finals at smaller tourneys and capturing three ATP titles over the past year. Perhaps his match against Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open could have been such a match, but wasn't. Perhaps his clash with Federer could have been that moment, but the Swiss master had more game and fended off the 21-year-old from Thornhill.
To get to the top 10 in the world, Raonic will eventually have to win one of these. For now, however, the poise and fight he showed in taking Federer three sets and giving him quite the scare was another building block in a career that still is trending upwards.
In a match carried across Canada, Raonic certainly provided some thrills by winning the first set in a tiebreak, a clear signal he wasn't going to be intimidated by Federer, still to many the greatest player ever to play the sport. He fell off in the second and was broken twice by Federer, but then righted himself and fought hard deep into the third set.
Unable to break Federer's serve at all on the night, Raonic had to hope he could push the third set to another tiebreak if he was to win. in the seventh game of the third with the match deadlocked at 3-3, Raonic was up 30-15 but then shanked a forehand to put himself on the precipice.
On the next point, Federer pushed Raonic deep behind the baseline and then pounded home a forehand winner. On game point, he returned a bullet serve from the Canadian short to Raonic's backhand. Raonic tried to slice the ball low to Federer's backhand, but in so doing opened up the court for a backhand winner and the decisive break of serve.
Federer then held twice more to win the match, although Raonic had two terrific service return winners and didn't help his cause by failing to challenge two line calls that replays showed would have gone his way if he had challenged.
In all, Raonic had 10 aces and kept the unforced errors to a minimum. After his serve left him in the second set, he found it again in the third. On the down side, there were moments of inexperience, Federer dominated in rallies and Raonic's service return was inconsistent. On the big points, Federer was dominant in winning three of four possible break points while Raonic was 0-3.
The key now is for Raonic and his coach, Galo Blanco, is to keeping adding to the youngster's game. His service return is better but must still get better, his mobility is sometimes questionable and the serve wavers at key moments.
But its all unfolding as it should for a player the top analysts in the world all seem to believe will soon be a top 10 player. At some point, there will be no more moral victories for Raonic, but that time isn't yet here. Going stride-for-stride, winner-for-winner with the great Federer was a tremendous achievement.