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Old 03-04-2011, 04:09 PM   #694
pound cat
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Montreal Gazette
Raonic making tennis must-see TV in Canada


Thanks Milos!


Sports fans will be served the rarest of Canadian television sporting events this weekend, thanks entirely to 20-year-old tennis phenomenon Milos Raonic.

Raonic’s spectacular start to the 2011 season prompted Rogers Sportsnet to make the decision to broadcast nationwide the Canadian Davis Cup team’s matches from Mexico starting Friday at noon on Sportsnet One.

Tennis Canada officials couldn’t remember the last time Canadians had a chance to watch their Davis Cup team compete in the annual international tournament other than a one-off broadcast in 2003.

Sportsnet and Tennis Canada officials also acknowledge that Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is the reason the Davis Cup is on Canadian TV for the first time in eight years.

Last month, the broadcaster made a last-minute decision to show Raonic’s winning performance in the final of an ATP Tour event at San Jose. About 56,000 viewers watched. A week later, Raonic lost a thriller to Andy Roddick of the U.S. in the final at Memphis, and the Canadian audience jumped to almost 160,000.

“Milos Raonic has . . . captured the attention of viewers across the country and really catapulted tennis into the forefront right now,” said Dave Rashford, director of communications for Rogers Sportsnet. “Canadians are excited about him.”

Raonic’s rise to prominence couldn’t be better timed for the network, which moved to increase its coverage of live tennis just weeks before the young Canadian’s star was born at the Australian Open in January.

“It’s like catching lightning in a bottle here,” Rashford said. “Everyone wants to know how Milos is doing. Canadians want to see him play. It’s not just, ‘I want to see Federer or Nadal’ any more. It’s, ‘I want to see Milos.’ ”

Michael Downey, head of Tennis Canada, says Raonic and rising Canadian women’s star Rebecca Marino of Vancouver have “opened (Sportsnet’s) eyes to the power of these kids.”

After both players appeared in finals last month in the joint Memphis ATP and WTA Tour events — Sportsnet made hurried arrangements to obtain permission to air Marino’s final, too — Sportsnet contacted Tennis Canada to seek broadcast rights to the Davis Cup and the women’s equivalent, the Fed Cup.

“We used to go out and ask them (to broadcast Davis Cup tennis), but generally the response was, ‘Only if you are going to buy the time will we put it on for you,’ ” Downey said.

That has changed, and Downey says it’s entirely because of Raonic, who has risen from 152nd to 37th in the men’s world rankings and Marino, who has risen from 101st to 61st.

Sportsnet acquired the TV rights to all major ATP events last fall, while TSN continues to hold Canadian broadcast rights to the Grand Slam events.

The Canadian jewel in the package for Sportsnet was the Rogers Cup, which alternates the men’s and women’s tournaments annually between Toronto and Montreal. With airtime to fill on its recently launched Sportsnet One channel, the broadcaster also purchased rights to lower-level tournaments without knowing Raonic was only weeks away from breaking out.

TSN’s Grand Slam tournament coverage will also benefit from Raonic, as his ranking provides automatic entry into the Grand Slam events.

“There is going to be demand,” Downey says.

Raonic has been watching the clamour from abroad.

“I think (Memphis) showed all of Canada that there really is something buzzing around with tennis,”

Last edited by pound cat : 03-04-2011 at 04:12 PM.
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