Milos Raonic and Joao Sousa went the distance in the 2015 St. Petersburg Open final.
With wins against top-five players Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori in the first few months of 2015, it appeared that Milos Raonic was on his way to the best season of his career. Though he reached an all-time high of No. 4 in the rankings during the clay-court stretch, injuries took their toll, hindering his results through the summer and early fall as he was forced to miss some tournaments and lost earlier than expected in others.
After a third-round showing at the US Open, the Canadian kicked off his indoor campaign in St. Petersburg, Russia. With the tournament returning to the ATP calendar after a year hiatus, Raonic entered the event as the second seed and lived up to his place in the draw by reaching the final behind some of the best serving of his career, going unbroken through three matches. In the championship match, he’d face Joao Sousa, the seventh seed, whom after battling through a three-setter in the first round, didn’t drop a set in his next three matches. That run included an upset over the third seed, Dominic Thiem, in the semifinals.
When Raonic and Sousa faced each other for the first time in their careers, it was the Canadian who defeated Portugal’s top player in front of his home crowd in Estoril back in 2011. The two met again on clay in 2015 in Monte Carlo with the same result: Raonic beating Sousa in straight sets. Though he had reached two finals on the surface in 2015, Sousa was far from a clay-court specialist, proven by his lone title coming indoors on hard courts in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. As he had demonstrated throughout his career, though, Raonic was at his best in faster conditions and won the first set, 6-3.
In the second, the unexpected occurred when Sousa gained an early break, the first against Raonic the entire tournament. Consolidating it, the Portugese soon leveled the match by a 6-3 scoreline. Striking first in the decider, Raonic got an early break of his own, then held off Sousa’s efforts to get back on serve the next game. Serving up 5-3, championship point, Raonic clinched the title behind a kicker Sousa couldn’t handle, giving the Canadian his first tournament triumph in more than a year.
After winning titles in the United States and Asia over the course of his career, Raonic claimed his first in Europe.
Sousa reached his third career indoor final against three clay-court championship round appearances. His record dropped to 1-2 in finals under a roof.
In 15 career finals for Raonic, this was only the fifth where he didn’t play at least one tiebreak set.