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Canadian Olympic tennis players face tough road after big opening-round wins

07/30/2012 10:57 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Milos Raonic and Aleksandra Wozniak looked sharp in their Olympic tennis debuts.

They'll need to be even better if they want to advance any further in their unforgiving draws at the London Games.

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., opened his first-round match against Japan's Tatsuma Ito with an ace Monday, then cruised to a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win.

His second-round match will be much different. Raonic faces World No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France on Tuesday.

"Really my job is just going to be go out there, take care of my serve and try to create opportunities," Raonic said. "But I'm going to have to go out there going for the win. He's not going to give it to me."

Tsonga and Raonic were set to meet in Davis Cup play last February but the Canadian had to pull out with a knee injury. He was replaced by Frank Dancevic, who lost the deciding match in straight sets.

"I think it's going to be a good match," Raonic said. "It was unfortunate and I was sort of bummed out not to have a chance to play him earlier in the year. But right now I don't think there's a bigger stage for us as far as national pride goes.

"So for me to have this opportunity again, I think it's a big one."

Wozniak, from Blainville, Que., also faces a daunting second-round opponent — American star Venus Williams. Wozniak will need to reproduce the form she showed in a decisive 6-2, 6-1 first-round win over New Zealand's Marina Erakovic.

"It's my first Olympics and it's so different than any Grand Slam or any WTA tournament," Wozniak said. "Tennis is such an individual sport, but (here) it's like you play for your own country. So the first victory for sure, it's for Canada."

In men's doubles, Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil advanced to the second round in men's doubles with a 6-3, 7-6 win over Horia Tecau and Adrian Ungur of Romania.

They will also have a strong opponent in the second round. They face the Serbian duo of Nenad Zimonjic — Nestor's former partner on the ATP Tour — and Janko Tipsarevic.

Pospisil seemed confident of Canada's chances.

"I'm playing with one of the best doubles players in the world," he said. "We get fired up and we play some of our best tennis."

The tennis players were among Canada's strongest athletes on Day 3, a relatively quiet day following a bronze-medal performance in three-metre synchronized diving from Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel on Sunday.

The pair received a standing ovation when they arrived for a media availability at Canada House on Monday.

"I had in my text to ask for a standing ovation," said COC president Marcel Aubut, holding up his notes. "I think it's done."

On the water, the men's eight crew faces a stiff test after they recovered from a horrible opening race and advanced to Wednesday's final. Canada finished second in its repechage Monday, just behind Britain.

It was a bounce-back performance for defending Olympic champions after finishing a disappointing last in a tough four-boat heat Saturday.

"We found our rhythm again," said team member Conlin McCabe of Brockville, Ont. "We're back in this. We feel like we're contenders again."

The Canadians charged hard at Britain in the final half of the race but the British, who led from the start, held on to win in 5:26.85. Canada was second in 5:27.41.

Canada will be in tough in Wednesday's final, however. The mighty German team is the favourite for gold, and the U.S., Britain, the Netherlands, and Australia will also field strong teams.

"Definitely today was a step forward from the heat," said team captain Malcolm Howard, a native of Victoria. "But that doesn't mean that there's not more to do."

The Canadian men's four finished third in their heat to advance to the semifinal.

Australia easily won the heat in an Olympic best 5:47.06, ahead of Germany.

In women's basketball action, Canada pulled away in the fourth quarter in a 73-65 win over Britain, finishing the game on a 16-4 run.

Hamilton's Shona Thorburn, who was born in Britain, scored 18 points for Canada.

In equestrian, Canadian rider Hawley Bennett-Awad was thrown from her horse and taken to hospital during the cross-country portion of eventing.

The 35-year-old from Murrayville, B.C., fell from her horse, Gin & Juice, and was taken to the Royal London Hospital for further examination, according to a team spokesperson.

Peter Barry of Dunham, Que., also fell from his horse, Kilrodan Abbott, and did not finish. He was not hurt in the fall.

In the pool, Canadians Barbara Jardin and Samantha Cheverton missed out on the final of the women's 200-metre freestyle, finishing 10th and 11th respectively in semifinal. It was the Olympic debut for both swimmers.

Erica Morningstar of Calgary missed a berth in the 200-metre individual medley semi by one spot, finishing 17th in 2:14.32.

In men's beach volleyball, Canadians Josh Binstock and Martin Reader dropped a 2-0 decision to Norway in their second match of the tournament.

Binstock, from Richmond Hill, Ont., and Reader, of Comox Valley, B.C., are now 1-1 and still in contention.

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