Raonic Reigns In St. Petersburg

Canadian boosts London chances

It has been a turbulent season for Milos Raonic, but with a cry of triumph, the Canadian ended a 14-month title drought on Sunday in St. Petersburg as he defeated Joao Sousa 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to capture his seventh ATP World Tour title.

“It’s such a great feeling to come to St. Petersburg and to be able to win this event," said Raonic. "It was a great experience overall with the event, the city and the people. This tournament is only going to get better. Word is going to spread about how much the players enjoyed it."

Raonic still has an outside chance of clinching one of the four remaining berths at the year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Winning the St. Petersburg Open title brings the Canadian an additional 250 points in the Emirates ATP Race To London, which will see him pass Marin Cilic into 12th position.

"It would be special [to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals again], especially with the health issues I’ve had," said Raonic. "It is something that will require a lot of winning the rest of this year, but I believe I can do it."

The 24-year-old Raonic made his debut at the Final Showdown in London last year, but has a lot of ground to make up if he is to return to The O2 from 15-22 November. The Toronto native’s season was derailed in May when he was forced to miss Roland Garros to undergo surgery on his right foot. It was a slow return to form and fitness for the right-hander, who would lose in the third round at both Wimbledon (l. to Kyrgios) and the US Open (l. to Lopez).

Victory over Sousa brings Raonic his first ATP World Tour title since he defeated countryman Vasek Pospisil in the Citi Open final in Washington in early August 2014. The right-hander finished runner-up to Roger Federer in the Brisbane final at the start of the 2015 season.

Raonic’s resolve was tested against the in-form Sousa, who became the only man this week to break the Canadian’s famed serve to clinch the second set. Having lost the first set to a service break in the fourth game, Sousa fended off four break points in the early stages of the second set before immediately breaking Raonic for a 3-1 lead and holding on to level the match.

The second-seeded Raonic benefitted from a Sousa double fault to grab a break in the second game of the deciding set before saving four break points in a crucial third game. Raonic would go on to clinch victory in two hours and seven minutes, having struck 22 aces and saved nine of 10 break points.

"I think I played my best," said Sousa. "Of course I feel sad that I couldn't have the title here. I was really confident that I could beat him today, but he played and served very well in the important moments. I just have to congratulate him for the match." 

Seventh seed Sousa lost in an ATP World Tour final for the third time this season, having finished runner-up to Thomaz Bellucci in Geneva and Dominic Thiem in Umag. The 26 year old from Portugal dropped to a 1-18 record against Top 10 players. His lone win was over No. 4 David Ferrer in the 2013 Kuala Lumpur quarter-finals en route to his maiden ATP World Tour title (d. Benneteau).

"This year has been a tough one," said Sousa. "It has been my best year, but a tough one as I lost three finals. It's really, really tough to accept it. But I think I can improve. I'm going to work for it and hopefully I can win the next one."