Above the 49: Raonic putting Canada on the tennis map

The 2012 U.S. Open will be remembered by most as being the tournament in which Great Britain's Andy Murray finally broke through the glass ceiling to capture his first career Grand Slam title or being the event that ended American Andy Roddick's career.

But many tennis fans in Canada are hoping it will one day be recalled as the tournament that helped springboard Canadian Milos Raonic toward superstardom.

Of course, one can point to nearly any tournament Raonic has been a part of in 2012 and suggest the same thing.

In the past nine months, the 21-year-old Canuck has added two ATP Titles to his resume, winning the 2012 Aircel Chennai Open in January and the SAP Open in February, scored a major upset win over Murray at the Barcelona Open in April, was involved in a history-setting match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2012 Olympic Games, and recently became the first Canadian since Martin Laurendeau in 1988 to advance to the fourth round of the U.S. Open (only the third Canadian in the Open era to get to the round of 16 in a Grand Slam).

Tennis sensations, at least on the singles side, have been few and far between in Canada.

Prior to Raonic, the top men's single tennis star to be produced by Canada was Montreal-born Greg Rusedski, the former ATP World No. 4 who enjoyed most of his career success after renouncing his Canadian status and opting to represent Great Britain instead.

Daniel Nestor, who was and arguably still is Canada's biggest household name in tennis, enjoyed all of his career success as a doubles player.

Raonic has been slowly garnering attention from the tennis community ever since he burst onto the scene, but he's now starting to create buzz among the casual sports fan, which can only bode well for the growth of the sport in the country.

Raonic's recent match in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open against Murray was touted by TSN, the Canadian rights holder for the tournament, as being the most watched U.S. Open match in that network's history with an average audience of 484,000 tuning in to watch Raonic hold his own against the Olympic champion from Great Britain, despite the result being a straight sets loss for Raonic.

He's no longer just the Canadian with the big serve. He's the Canadian who can hang with the big boys and give them a run for their money.

He's also the Canadian who has made appointment viewing for tennis necessary.

That will certainly be the case at the Davis Cup World Group playoff which gets underway Friday, when Raonic will be a featured member of the Canadian squad facing South Africa at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal as he looks to help Canada stay in the Davis Cup World Group in 2013.

Of course, Raonic will have plenty of work to do before he can be considered in the same conversation as the Roger Federers or Andy Murrays of the world, but his stock has risen considerably and it has shown in his ranking, where he's surged to as high as No. 16 in the world recently - the highest ranking for a Canadian men's singles player ever - and it certainly seems as if the sky's the limit for the talented youngster.

Just how great Raonic can be remains to be seen, but he's already helped put Tennis Canada on the map in a way never before done, and if he manages to keep on his current path, it's not out of the question to suggest he can help lift tennis' popularity in Canada to unprecedented levels.