By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - It was last call at Canada's biggest tennis party on Wednesday until Milos Raonic delivered a nail-biting 4-6 7-6 (2) 7-6 (4) second round win over American Jack Sock to keep home hopes alive at the Rogers Cup.
After two party-pooping days in Toronto and Montreal, where a WTA Tour event is being staged simultaneously, Raonic is the last Canadian standing in the two tournaments that had been hyped as a turning point for the sport in the Great White North.
With Raonic the toast of Toronto - sitting at a career high number six in the world rankings riding the momentum from a tournament win in Washington on Sunday - and Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, hailed as the new face of women's tennis and the belle of the ball in her native Montreal, the week was supposed to be a national tennis celebration.
But the celebration quickly turned into a funeral march with eight of the nine Canadians entered already shown the exit before Raonic had stepped onto centre court for his first match.
With Tennis Canada officials, sponsors, television executives and fans still reeling from Bouchard's shock 6-0 2-6 6-0 opening loss to American qualifier Shelby Rogers on Tuesday, a new wave of panic swept through the stadiums on Wednesday when Sock easily claimed the opening set from an unsteady Raonic.
The big-hitting Canadian, however, would not disappoint and displayed the steel, grit and heart Bouchard lacked to survive two nervy tie-breaks and leave tournament officials and fans happy.
"Today had nothing to do with that (pressure)," said Raonic. "Today was just first match of a new tournament and it's never going to be pretty.
"You've just got to go and fight through and I was able to do so."
The two Rogers Cups had been heavily promoted in both Montreal and Toronto and on national television commercials aired across the entire country.
In both cities, the faces of Raonic and Bouchard smiled out from magazines, newspapers and televisions while the buildup to the two tournaments had national news outlets chronicling the extraordinary rise of the sport in the hockey-crazed country.
But the disappointing results offered a sobering reminder that expectations run high whether you are wielding a tennis racquet or a hockey stick.
"I just want her to sort of forget it as quickly as possible," Raonic said of Bouchard's shock defeat.
"Grand scheme of things, whatever may happen, obviously you want to play well but people, she will realise people are not going to remember Montreal.
"They're going to remember at the end of this year Wimbledon, Paris, and Melbourne. Not Montreal."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)