SAN JOSE -- The SAP Open already is a special stop for Milos Raonic. The Canadian won his first professional title at the tournament two years ago and successfully defended the championship last year.
But Sunday, as the event at HP Pavilion ends its 125-year run in Northern California, Raonic might have a chance to make history. He could become the first player since Tony Trabert (1953-55) to win the tournament three years in a row.
"It would be something special," said Raonic, who is 9-0 in San Jose. "I don't think people can say really too often that they've gone undefeated at one event."
As the top seed this week, Raonic will play his first match Thursday after an opening-round bye.
The tournament began Monday with eighth-seeded Xavier Malisse beating Go Soeda 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the featured evening match.
Raonic is 5-2 this year and is ranked a career-best 13th.
He reached the Round of 16 at the recent Australian Open, losing to Roger Federer, and also made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open last year, losing to Andy Murray.
But though his career remains on the ascent, the 22-year-old faces the challenge most rising players face: Can he catch the Big Four of Novak Djokovic,
Raonic said that rather than bide his time, hoping those players eventually fade from the top, he is "working and trying to become a part of that group, become associated with those top four."
He knows it won't be easy.
"They're increasing the level of tennis," Raonic said. "That's why I think it's taking longer for players to break through."
"I came here and I wanted to win in the first round -- and that's accomplished," said Malisse, 32. "Now I'm feeling good. I have some time to practice a little bit. The more matches, the more rhythm. Hopefully I'll be the last one to win here."
It wasn't for lack of trying, former SAP Open tournament director Bill Rapp said.
Rapp noted last week that he met with Federer's parents about a half dozen times over the years. He also said he met with Nadal in Miami and a couple of times with Djokovic and his parents.
They declined the invitation to play in San Jose, Rapp said, citing a preference to stay in Europe for an extra week or two before traveling to the United States for the bigger tournaments in March.