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Canada’s Milos Raonic powers through to third round at National Bank Open

Milos Raonic did not expect to perform as well as he did Wednesday.

Milos Raonic did not expect to perform as well as he did Wednesday.

Raonic used his strong serve to power through to a 6-4, 6-3 second-round win over Japan’s Taro Daniel at the National Bank Open. The Thornhill, Ont., native had 15 aces to just two double faults and broke on two of his seven opportunities.

“There was obviously some points of frustration today,” he said. “A few break points I didn’t necessarily play well, maybe some opportunities I felt get away which when I had opportunities in my last match, I was probably a bit more sharp.

“I just kind of kept plugging away and giving myself those chances. To be honest with you, after playing well in the first round, having not played many matches back to back in a very long time, I really didn’t expect to play that well today.

“I know that that’s one of the more difficult things, is that picking stuff up and carrying it from one day to the next and having that continuity … I think I can play better tomorrow so hopefully I can build off that.”

Daniel, 30, had three aces to two double faults and went without a break point opportunity throughout the one hour 30-minute match.

The 32-year-old Raonic will next face American Mackenzie McDonald — who defeated sixth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-3 on Wednesday — in third-round play on Thursday.

Raonic entered Wednesday’s match having defeated ninth-seeded American Frances Tiafoe on Monday in his first appearance at the NBO since 2019 and first in Toronto since 2018.

Raonic had played only four matches prior to the NBO tournament after his comeback to the ATP Tour in June. The former world No. 3 had been sidelined since July 2021 due to an Achilles tendon issue and toe injuries.

“It’s good,” he said when asked how happy he was with his recovery from his three-set, two hour 44-minute match on Monday. “That match was difficult, physically (and) emotionally on Monday.

“So to come back today and play a pretty clean match, it counts. It makes the difference today, it’ll make a difference for tomorrow as well so that’s something to be happy about.”

Raonic feels he’s in the ballpark of his top level prior to the injuries.

“I don’t think it’s really that far off,” he said.

The opening set was a back-and-forth affair, with Raonic finding most of his success on serve.

The Canadian fired two aces en route to winning the first game, and along with some forehand winners, hit two more aces to earn him a 2-1 edge to the delight of the Sobeys Stadium crowd.

Daniel capitalized with some cross-court winners and some of Raonic’s mistakes to continuously even the score while on serve.

It wasn’t until the 10th game where either player won a game on return. With a 5-4 lead in hand and in deuce, Raonic won the set thanks to consecutive errors from Daniel.

Raonic had eight aces in the opening set, the last of them coming in the ninth game.

In the second set, Raonic jumped out to a 3-0 advantage, taking the last point by forcing Daniel to sprint cross court and return his forehand shot wide.

Raonic extended his lead to 4-1, continuing to challenge Daniel with his serve. Raonic forced a wide return on his serve to make it 40-0 before sealing the game with his 10th ace.

Following chants of “Let’s Go Milos!” from the home crowd after Daniel won the next game, Raonic fired off three consecutive aces before forcing a long return from Daniel on yet another strong serve to win the game.

After dropping the next game to Daniel behind multiple errors, the crowd again rallied behind Raonic with a standing ovation.

Serving on match point, Raonic sealed it with his 15th ace of the match, bringing the Toronto crowd to its feet.

“Getting that kind of energy, that kind of response, it makes a difference,” Raonic said.

In other men’s singles action, eighth-seeded American Taylor Fritz outlasted France’s Ugo Humbert 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, France’s Gael Monfils upset fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-4. 6-3 and second-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia moved past Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi 6-2, 7-5.

Canada’s Gabriel Diallo lost 6-4, 7-5 to Australia’s Alex de Minaur Wednesday afternoon. The 21-year-old Montreal native won his first ATP Tour level match on Tuesday against Britain’s Dan Evans to advance into the second round.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is also scheduled to play Wednesday, taking on American Ben Shelton in the evening session after receiving a bye into the second round.