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Milos Raonic defeats Marin Cilic in straight sets, advances to Australian Open quarters – TSN

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Milos Raonic is into the Australian Open men’s singles quarterfinals for the fifth time in the last six years.

The 29-year-old Canadian backed up a straight-sets upset of No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the fourth round Sunday afternoon.

Although the 2014 US Open champion Cilic, who is part of Raonic’s generation of players and has also gone through a tough 12 months, was hampered by a lower back issue early on, there wasn’t a lot he could do as Raonic put on another serving clinic.

The Canadian fired 35 aces, bring his total through four matches to 82.

“It was a roller coaster. He was playing better than I was through most of the first set. I was lucky to get through that, made a bit of a run with it,” Raonic said during a post-match interview on court. “I’m just happy to be out here, to be feeling well and to be playing good.

“I haven’t gotten to do this that much over the last few years, so it means a lot to me.”

Cilic did earn two set points late in the third set. Raonic erased the first with a 225 km/hour ace. He erased the second with a 210 km/hour ace.

Through four rounds, Raonic has yet to drop a set. And only one of the 12 sets he has played has gone as far as a tiebreak.

He will face the winner between defending champion Novak Djokovic and No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Melbourne was the scene for the Canadian’s first major career breakthrough, some of his finest tennis at the Grand Slam level, and one of his most bitter career disappointments in 2016 when he seemed poised to win it all.

A year ago in this city, he also made the quarterfinals. With that, he returned to the top 15 in the rankings for the first time in 18 months.

But later in the year the Canadian’s body let him down, in the way it so often has during his star-crossed career.

Raonic missed the French Open in early June, the US Open last September and then the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in November.

“It was hard for me to skip Davis Cup, but I had to spend time, because I was ailing (with) a back issue throughout pretty much the whole year,” Raonic said. “I had to take time where I didn’t serve for about a month. But it allowed me to focus on other things, put other things together and get stronger, get fitter.”

The Canadian came into 2020 with guarded optimism.

“I was able to train for about six, seven weeks straight without any hindrances, no setbacks. I was thankful for that,” he said.

Raonic retained coach Mario Tudor, who first joined him on a regular basis at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. last summer.

But he changed up other elements. “I switched around the people that are with me, so the methods have been a little bit different in that sense. Everybody sort of rotated around what I was doing in the gym and also how I was rehabbing and these kind of things,” he said. “I spent two weeks in Boston to help focus on a few things there with a group of guys, and then I spent four weeks training down in the Caribbean.”

Raonic opened the season at the ATP Tour event in Qatar, where he lost his opening match to French left-hander Corentin Moutet. As a result, he arrived in Melbourne a little short of match play.

If he felt healthy, there was no way to anticipate that his big serve would arrive in vintage, devastating form.

After sliding into the final seeded spot (at No. 32) late the previous week, Raonic was able to avoid facing a top seed in the early rounds.

Instead, he defeated lucky loser Lorenzo Giustino of Italy and Chile’s Cristian Garin in straight sets. On Friday, he did the same to 2019 semifinalist and No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. And then, Cilic.

It was the young Greek star’s first career experience facing the Raonic serve. He found it rather unpleasant.

Tsitsipas is one of several young players who have emerged in the top 10 over the last 3 ½ years, the period since Raonic made the 2016 Wimbledon final. Raonic also has yet to face two rising young Russians, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.

“When you look back at it, it’s almost like playing sporadically for the last three years. In its own way, it’s like a hiatus,” Raonic said. “I have to build myself back up and get some momentum, get some consistency, and then give myself an opportunity.”

But for all the new players who blossomed during this mid-career “hiatus”, much is the same.

“I don’t think it’s really changed in any sense. I think maybe just a few guys got filtered out. (Tomas) Berdych, (David) Ferrer, they both retired last year. We have these younger guys that have stepped up, Sascha (Zverev), Stefanos, a few others, as well, and the Canadians,” Raonic said. “I think it’s been a shift, but it’s still the (same) guys winning the big events.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced to the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles tournament at the Australian Open. The No.6 seeded duo defeated American Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in the third round on Sunday.

By reaching the quarters, the 27-year-old Canadian matches her best result in women’s doubles at the Australian Open.

In her only previous quarter-final appearance in Melbourne back in 2018, Dabrowski and former partner Yifan Xu of China fell to the eventual runner-ups — Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

Dabrowski, currently ranked eighth in the world in doubles, has a new partner in Ostapenko for the opening Grand Slam of the year. She split with Xu after last season.

Dabrowski and Xu’s best result at a Grand Slam was a runner-up showing at last year’s Wimbledon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2020.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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