It’s not like they haven’t been here before, had their chances before, or grabbed some corner of the spotlight before.
Raonic has been around longer, a couple more years than Genie. He’s also competing in a men’s bracket that has, until recently, been dominated solely by three of the greatest players in the past quarter-century – Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic. And when that axis isn’t winning, Raonic still has to upset a rotating cast of villains like Stan Wawrinka and, of course, Andy Murray. Raonic has been waiting for his portion and the table’s always cleaned off by the time he gets there.
Maybe that’s why his comments are a step-at-a-time type. They’re not about grand dreams or desires, because he won’t have won anything until he’s actually, well, won it.
“I feel like I’m playing better today than I did three days ago,” Raonic said on Wednesday in Paris, after dispatching of Czech Jiri Vesely to move onto the French Open’s third round for the third straight year. “I’ve dealt a little better with, when I got things figured out, as far as intensity. I held it on a little bit better where I struggled a little bit with my match, three days ago.”
Raonic is currently ranked 9th in the world, not far from the top but still under the five stars mentioned above, plus players like Ferrer, Del Potro, and Berdych.
Bouchard has definitely hogged Canada’s attention. And why shouldn’t she?
She’s beautiful, yes. And she’s a phenom – as soon as Serena rides off and when the Wozniacki’s and Li Na’s out there don’t perform, the just-turned 20-year-old from Montreal is the brightest light on the women’s tour. Not just for Canada, but for the sport. (It’s at the point now where I feel guilty writing this column. I wouldn’t want to jinx her.)
Our country’s tennis hunger has turned to craving, with Bouchard the obvious matinee. But her responsibilities are on the court, not a red carpet – and she no doubt knows it.
“It was definitely more of a mental win today,” she said Wednesday, after taking three sets to beat out German Julia Goerges. “It was a little bit up and down, but I’m happy that I was able to pull through… I have confidence that, whatever happens on the court, I can still fight, I can still try my best and give myself the best chance to win.”
Whereas Raonic still has a stacked bracket in front of him – when doesn’t he? – the blind eye would see this year’s French Open as the best chance Bouchard has had to chase her first major title.
(Again, let’s remember, she’s 20 years old. She’s going to have plenty of chances, many of them as a favourite.)
With No. 1 seed Serena Williams falling in straight sets, 20th seed Alize Cornet going down, along with 16th seed Sabine Lisicki, and especially with No. 2 Li Na losing in her opening match, the seas have parted for Bouchard.
But they’ve also parted for everyone else between her and Na.
Bouchard is currently ranked 16th in the world, meaning there are a host of other players with as much claim to the podium as her. Still, if we’re talking about the same Bouchard that rocked Melbourne at last January’s Aussie Open – the same Bouchard that beat Ana Ivanovic before she was surgically picked apart by Na in the semis, a hazard of being young and ripe – then maybe, just maybe, there’s no female player left in Paris with as much promise as Montreal’s own.
“I really don’t look at the draw that much,” she said, commenting on the top seeds’ upsets. “So much can happen, it’s so out of my control that I don’t bother with that.
“All I look forward to, really, is the next match I’m gonna play, and that’s it.”
There is, however, another angle of hope here – one that extends past this year’s French Open.
For Raonic, his window to be that next guy is narrowing. But as the ninth-ranked player in the world, he could very well be entering his two-year heyday, as Federer and Nadal coast into old age, bruised from all their battles, and Murray and Djokovic slowly wind toward the same phase.
And for Bouchard, maybe she won’t make Paris sizzle… this year.
But she’s 20 years old. Serena is the number one by default. Li Na, who’s 12 years Bouchard’s senior, is the template for practice, patience, and reward – and Genie already had a front row in Na’s class at this year’s Aussie Open.
Everyone else between Bouchard and the top is just a face she can replace.
Who knows if this year is her year. But it could certainly be her decade.