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Raonic repeats as SAP Open champion

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POSTED February 19, 2012 10:57 p.m.

SAN JOSE  (AP) — Milos Raonic captured a second straight SAP Open championship Sunday, rolling past Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6 (3), 6-2 behind a powerful serve nobody in San Jose could solve.

Raonic (pronounced Rau-nitch) ripped only seven aces in the final but took control of points from the start, turning the tournament into a serving exhibition in the climate-controlled conditions of an indoor arena. The 6-foot-5 Canadian has dropped only two service games in two years in San Jose.

“I feel amazing. It’s definitely a different feeling from the first time last year. I think I’m more aware and more appreciative of the moment,” Raonic told the crowd in an on-court interview.

After hip surgery following a slip on Wimbledon’s grass last year stalled his season, Raonic is rising rapidly again. The 21-year-old began the tournament ranked 32nd and will head to Memphis next week as one of the favorites.

Raonic relied on his powerful, penetrating serve to punish his opponent again.

At the start of the sixth game, Raonic unleashed a 150 mph ace past Istomin that drew stunned roars from the crowd. Istomin challenged the point — perhaps just to try to shake up his opponent — on a ball that clearly landed inside the line, even chuckling as he watched the videoboard while setting up for the next point.

That’s about all he could do.

After neither player could break the other, Raonic rested on his serve to force a first-set tiebreaker. He fired a backhand return right at Istomin, forcing his lanky opponent to backpedal into a miss, and followed with a forehand approach for a winner to go ahead 5-1 in the breaker.

Istomin had little room for error.

He flicked a forehand into the net and sailed a baseline backhand long to fall behind 3-1 in the second and never had so much as a break point. Raonic saved his best for his serve but hardly saved his energy for it.

Raonic pounced on Istomin again to force a backhand long and then a forehand into the net on match point. He looked to the rafters and raised his right hand in triumph while Istomin simply smirked.

It was that kind of day.

Last year, Raonic became the first Canadian to win an ATP Tour title since Greg Rusedski won in South Korea in 1995. Now he has two career singles titles and is again making a name for himself on the circuit.

Raonic joins Andy Murray (2006-07), Andy Roddick (2004-05), Mark Philippoussis (1999-2000) and Pete Sampras (1996-97) — whose serve Raonic mimicked as a kid in Canada — as recent back-to-back champions in San Jose. He took home the winner’s check for $95,860, while Istomin won $50,485.

“If the real estate wasn’t so expensive here, maybe I’d buy a place,” Raonic joked.

Istomin had upset American fan favorite Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. He was playing in his second ATP final and first since 2010, when he lost to Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in New Haven, Conn.

Istomin will have to wait for his first tour championship.

Suddenly, Raonic is back on the rise.

Raonic rose to as high as No. 25 in the rankings last year — the highest ever for a Canadian — before his season derailed with a slip on Wimbledon’s grass. He had hip surgery in July that sliced his season short, still earning ATP Newcomer of the Year honors after such a stirring start.

The Bay Area has been kind to Raonic and other Canadian athletes in recent years.

Aleksandra Wozniak ended a 20-year title drought for Canadian women when she won at Stanford in 2008. And Raonic ended the drought on the men’s side last year in the same building where fellow Canadians such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle star for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

In doubles, Kevin Anderson and Frank Moser defeated Mark Knowles and Xavier Malisse 6-4, 1-6, 10-5 in the finals.

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