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Melzer beats Raonic to win title in Memphis

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Jurgen Melzer is playing so well again that not even a broken toe could slow him down.

The Austrian capped his amazing run through the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships by beating Milos Raonic of Canada 7-5, 7-6 (4) on Sunday for his fourth career title and first since 2010.

"If anybody would've said last Friday, especially in the morning after seeing the doctor, that I'll be holding the trophy next Sunday, I would've called him a fool," Melzer said. "But sometimes, you know, life plays games like that. Maybe it took a little bit of the pressure off in the beginning."

Melzer ran over and hugged his coach, Joakim Nystrom, in the front row after finishing off the victory.

Back troubles knocked Melzer from eighth in the world last spring to 38th coming into Memphis, but he played well in helping Austria beat Russia in Davis Cup two weeks ago. Then he broke his right big toe when he caught his foot in a hotel bedspread in the dark, and a doctor found the break on an X-ray on Feb. 17. Melzer returned to the court for practice two days later and survived three-set tiebreakers in his first two rounds to advance in Memphis.

Melzer showed no signs of any discomfort as he ousted top-seeded John Isner in the quarterfinals and No. 3 seed Radek Stepanek in the semifinals before downing the fourth-seeded Raonic, who was trying to win his third title this year and second in two weeks.

"If I play like this to win a tournament, I'll break a toe any day," Melzer said.

The 30-year-old picked up the $277,915 winner's check following his first championship since taking the title in his hometown of Vienna in 2010. He called it a relief to win again, especially an event with 500 ranking points.

"After a tough season last year, it's obviously something nice," Melzer said.

Melzer countered the power of the 21-year-old Raonic by placing his shots well, with many going to the Canadian's backhand. Melzer closed out the 97-minute match when Raonic put a backhand into the net to end a second-set tiebreaker.

"He's not as dangerous off his backhand. I think it's his safer stroke, but more dangerous he is with his forehand," Melzer said. "So when the ball was in play, I just tried to move him and play to his backhand and if I had the chance to, go for the winner. And if not, just kept him playing around because I felt I was safer from the backcourt."

Melzer came in having lost U.S. finals in 2003 in Newport, 2006 in Houston and 2007 in Las Vegas. Now, he leaves Memphis for Delray Beach with his big toe feeling much better and a ranking around No. 22.

Raonic had been playing very well this year, with a match record of 15-1 and his lone loss coming to Lleyton Hewitt in the third round of the Australian Open. Raonic had won nine matches in a row in straight sets before Sunday.

He wound up losing the final here for a second straight year. Raonic lost a three-set tiebreak a year ago to Andy Roddick on an incredible diving shot.

"I'll learn much more from this than I would if the outcome was the other way," Raonic said. "It doesn't matter what the outcome is, I just need to take the most I can from it. I'm young. There's a lot of space for improvement in my game, and that's sort of what I have to look at in the next steps to get better."

The Canadian held serve in 45 of 46 games this week before Melzer broke him to go up 6-5 in the first set. Raonic had a couple of unforced errors, starting with a forehand into the net. He also hit a forehand long and, down 30-40, Raonic hit another forehand into the net on the lone break point he faced. Melzer served out to win the first set, finishing with a 108 mph ace.

Raonic looked frustrated with himself early but had a chance in the second set.

He needed four break points before breaking Melzer by hitting a forehand down the line to go up 3-1 in the set. Raonic held serve for a 4-1 lead before Melzer broke back when Raonic double-faulted to give the Austrian the advantage and then hit a forehand into the net.

Still, Raonic had set point at 30-40 leading 5-4 when Melzer double-faulted. Raonic hit a backhand into the net for deuce and a backhand return into the net to give Melzer the advantage. Raonic then hit his return wide.

In the tiebreaker, Raonic fired up his serve with a 142 mph ace and then a 148 mph rocket for a service winner to go up 3-2. Melzer challenged an out call on his next serve and a replay showed the ball just caught the edge of the line.

Melzer got a mini-break on the Canadian when Raonic hit a forehand into the net to go up 5-3 in the tiebreaker. Up 5-4 and serving, Melzer watched Raonic hit a forehand wide before putting a backhand into the net on the final point.

Raonic already has Memphis on his 2013 schedule.

"It's like somebody dangling a piece of cake in front of you and taking it away in the last second," Raonic said. "I'll definitely be back."

Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Updated February 26, 2012

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