18 Feb Milos on a Mission
Former Finalist Raonic Among Tuesday Winners
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – The past six months have been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride for Milos Raonic.
The 29-year-old Canadian won only three of his nine matches to close out 2019, but kicked off his 2020 campaign with a strong showing at the Australian Open where he reached the quarterfinals for the fifth time there before losing to eight-time champ Novak Djokovic. Then he lost first match at last week’s New York Open and arrived at the Delray Beach Open by Vitacost.com this week having dropped five spots in the ATP world rankings to No. 37.
Raonic’s game could be on the upswing again, however. He made quick work Tuesday afternoon of his first-round match opponent, ousting Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-2, 6-2. Raonic is the No. 2 seed here this week, but following the withdrawal Tuesday of top seed Nick Kyrgios (wrist injury), Raonic suddenly finds himself in a favorable position to capture his ninth career title.
“I didn’t play much over the last six months, so it’s been a little up and down,” Raonic said following match that took just a little more than an hour to complete Tuesday. “But once I get going I can get my footing under me. I’m getting better and better so I’m happy about that.”
Raonic, who was a finalist in Delray Beach in 2017 and now has a 6-1 record here, dropped only one point on his first serve (21/22) against Istomin.
“I had a little bit of a scare there at the beginning. I got out of a bit of trouble but then I played solid the rest of the way,” said Raonic, who next faces German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who beat lucky loser Bernard Tomic 6-2, 3-6, 6-2. “A lot of positives to take on to the next match.”
The other winners Tuesday afternoon on the Stadium Court were qualifier Cameron Norrie, who ousted No. 3 seed American Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4, and American Reilly Opelka, the No. 4 seed here this week who needed three sets to hold off qualifier Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(4).
“It was kind of tough conditions out with the heat and wind, (but) I was able to sneak out a win in the third set, so I’m happy,” said Norrie of his first win here in Delray Beach. “(Fritz) played too good in the second (set). I managed to keep my composure and come back in the second set. Taylor is one of the toughest competitors out there. He came back strong in the second.”
Next up for Norrie is American Brandon Nakashima. “Brandon’s been playing well and winning a lot lately, so it’s going to be another tough one,” Norrie said.
Opelka, 22, said he knew he would receive a strong challenge from the 31-year-old Gulbis, who won the Delray Open in 2010 and ’13 but arrived here this week ranked No. 224 in the world.
“He’s a former Top 10 player in the world. It’d be pretty dumb not to,” the 6-foot-11 Opelka said of Gulbis. “I’ve played him a few times, so I knew what to expect. I’m pretty confident with my tennis right now. I knew I was going to well, it was just a matter of who executes.”
Opelka’s second-round opponent will be fellow American Mackenzie McDonald, and Opelka said he’s anticipating another tough match.
“He’s a tough matchup for me. He beat me in Dallas the last time and he plays well here,” Opelka said. “it’s a tricky matchup. He likes these (outdoor) conditions, so it’s going to be a battle.”
Two other Americans also advanced to the second round with straight-set victories. Steve Johnson ousted Henri Laaksonen 7-6(5), 6-4 and qualifier Noah Rubin, who won his first set 6-3, advanced after Jason Jung retired trailing 4-3 in the second set.
Frenchman Ugo Humbert, the No. 6 seed here who won the Auckland title in January, needed three sets to dispatch lucky loser American Stefan Kozlov 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1. The other singles winner on Court 1 was Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia who won his first set and then advanced when Aussie Jordan Thompson retired.