There were occasional flashes of the old Milos Raonic during his run to the third round at the National Bank Open.
Expectations were low this week for the 32-year-old Canadian, just two months into a comeback after nearly two years away from the ATP Tour.
At times, Raonic looked like the player who was a force in the mid-2010s. At others, he appeared rusty and error-prone. His performance Thursday included more of the latter and it proved costly.
American Mackenzie McDonald rolled to a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Raonic in a rain-interrupted match that ended Canada’s hopes in the singles draw at Sobeys Stadium.
“Some things came together well, some things I can hope to do better,” Raonic said. “I did everything I could and it took me where it did.”
The velocity of the booming serve that helped Raonic to a pair of early victories was down a tick in the afternoon matchup.
Unforced errors were also a problem for the former world No. 3, who couldn’t find a groove against his more consistent adversary.
“I didn’t have that same kind of speed on the serve that I needed to,” Raonic said. “And it’s just a buildup over the last few matches and these kind of things.
“I just needed to be better in that case, and I wasn’t able to be.”
Raonic looked rested and strong in a three-set upset victory over ninth-seeded American Frances Tiafoe on Monday night. A straight-set victory over Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel followed on Wednesday.
However, Raonic seemed handcuffed by the 59th-ranked McDonald, who played a steady, effective style, seemingly content to keep the aggressiveness in check and let Raonic make mistakes.
The approach paid off with his first career appearance in a Masters 1000 quarterfinal.
McDonald will next play Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who pulled out a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) upset victory over third-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway.
For Raonic, who grew up in nearby Thornhill, Ont., it was his first appearance at his hometown tournament since 2018 and the crowds showed him love at every turn.
McDonald broke Raonic in his opening service game in both sets and kept the Canadian guessing. He worked in the occasional serve and volley and his ball placement was on point.
Raonic forced a three-deuce game late in the second set but McDonald held serve and would close out the win in 68 minutes.
Many spectators stood to applaud Raonic as he left centre court, not knowing if it will be his final appearance here since the men’s event won’t return to the York University venue until 2025.
“I think it’s probably the most special and endearing thing about these three matches, from Monday night to yesterday to today, through the ups and downs of it all, that energy that you can’t quantify in any way or you can’t put a name to it,” Raonic said.
“But you can kind of just like close your eyes and wish you were in that same scenario many times over.”
Now down to No. 545 in the world after his long absence due to injury, Raonic can still use his protected ranking for main-draw entries.
He hasn’t tipped his hand on plans for 2024 and beyond, instead prioritizing focus on the current hardcourt season.
“I’ve just got to keep looking forward and keep it short-term,” Raonic said.
Play on all courts was suspended for just over an hour in the early afternoon due to thunderstorms.
Top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz of Spain narrowly avoided the upset in a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3) triumph over 15th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. Alcaraz’s over-reliance on the dropshot almost cost him the match in front of Edmonton Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Alcaraz will face 12th-seeded Tommy Paul, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Marcos Giron in an all-American match.