What started to look like one of the most promising weekends in Canadian sports history left most of us a little disappointed by the end of it. Both the Canadian Men’s Basketball team and tennis star Milos Raonic fell short of their ultimate goals but still represented Canada with class. We should be proud of their efforts and see this as a good sign of better results to come.
The Maple Leaf Missile had a fantastic second week at the Wimbledon Grand Slam. The young boy from Vaughan who entered the tournament grew up right in front of our very eyes as a battle tested warrior. In the past he had difficulty in overcoming adversity, but this year he was different. Whether his previous experiences had begun to take hold or whether words of wisdom from his “grass court consultant” John McEnroe lit the fire, we finally saw an aggressive Milos. For the first time in his career he came back from losing two sets to love to defeat David Goffin in five sets. Then on Friday he faced the icon Roger Federer who in 10 tries had never lost a semi-final match at the All England Tennis Club. In fact during those 10 matches he had only lost one set. Milos came back from two sets to one and beat Federer in five to become the first Canadian male to ever make it to a Grand Slam final.
So it was with great anxiety as Canada woke up early on Sunday to see if Raonic could once again overcome the odds and this time beat the #2 ranked Andy Murray. Sadly it wasn’t to be as the Canadian lost to the hometown hero in straight sets 6-4, 7-6, 7-6. Despite serving as hard as he could, Murray was fantastic at being able to return serves even those going over 130mph. Murray made Raonic earn all of those service games but Raonic couldn’t pressure Murray on his. Despite the loss, he handled the pressure of his first grand slam with class and dignity and that should better prepare him for his next visit to the grand stage.
At the same time that Raonic was making Canadian history, the Canadian Men’s Basketball team had a one game opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Beat the heavily-favoured team from France (loaded with NBA players) and win a trip to Rio. Lose and start planning for 2020. Despite falling behind on a number of occasions, the team always fought hard and clawed their way back. With just over 2 minutes to play they were within 4 points until Tony Parker (yes THAT Tony Parker who plays for the San Antonio Spurs and has a number of NBA championships rings) hit a three point shot and the Canucks never got closer losing 83-74 at the end.
There are a few disappointed fans out there as Canada should have already qualified for the Olympics at last year’s FIBA Americas tournament but fell short to a beatable, veteran Venezuelan team. They are also disappointed because Canada did not send their strongest team. Players such as Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas decided not to play. Dwight Powell, Andrew Nicholson and Jamal Murray did not have a team contract yet and could not risk injury while Kelly Olynyk was already sidelined. That is a fair bit of experience to not show up making it a difficult tournament for Canada. You may have a hard time understanding why certain players did not choose to play and I am not here to tell you or them what is right and what is wrong. They made a decision they felt was best and since we are not in their shoes we shouldn’t judge. What we can do however, is praise and say thank you to those who did decide to represent Canada like the Raptors Corey Joseph and 2016 NBA Champion Tristan Thompson. Veteran players like Joel Anthony and Levon Kendall still came out knowing full well they would not get much playing time but were ready if called upon. So as bitter as this loss is, there is still plenty of good to look forward to in men’s basketball. They were the youngest team to compete in the six-team tournament and they almost won it. As they mature over the next several years, this will be an exciting team to cheer for.
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