While the Rogers Cup is being held these days in Toronto, we present a portrait of one of the most promising players on the ATP tour: Milos Raonic. The responsibility on the shoulders of this tall 21 year old with the look of a choirboy is heavy - to help develop Canadian tennis in the country where ice hockey is king.
For a long time Canadian tennis fans could only admire the ATP tour's champions once a year, at the Rogers Cup, which takes place alternatively in Montreal or Toronto in the summer. However, recently, they can now pride themselves in having a national representative all year round; the great revelation of the world tour, Milos Raonic. After turning pro in 2008 before his 18th birthday, it was at the beginning of the 2011 season that the kid started to make some noise for the first time. At the Australian Open in January that year, he reached the last 16, dominated by David Ferrer after defeating two old hands, Michael Llodra and Mikhaïl Youzhny.
Teased for… being short!
After this remarkable feat, Milos captured his first major title at San Jose by defeating Fernando Verdasco in the final, then ranked 9th in the world. Only one week later, he reached another final, going down to Andy Roddick in Memphis. “These performances sent him directly to the 37th in the world, his career was truly launched and that's when he started to be a star in this country” says the Canadian journalist Paul Roux.
Very impressive physically (6ft5, 14.2st) Raonic is, however, far from the gifted child for whom success was destined to be with racquet in hand. Canada's current captain for the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, Martin Laurendeau, remembers the arrival of “a quite tiny junior” at the national training centre in Montreal a few years ago. “It's hard for me to imagine it today, but he was teased quite a lot about this by Daniel Nestor (Canadian number one in doubles, Editor's note). Then, suddenly, he started to grow up quickly, very quickly. Obviously the physical difficulties followed… He also had to do a lot of coordination work to go with this express growth.”
Clocked at 140 mph
As a player in the making, coached during his childhood in Ontario by his engineer father, Milos Raonic took everyone "a little by surprise." Martin Laurendeau included. "From his first victories in Junior, he soon moved on to the Futures tournaments and then to the Challengers before tipping over directly to the major tournaments. Such a quick progression is rare." The great strength of this Montenegrin-born player, who fled the troubles in his home country with his family when he was not even four years old, is first and foremost his devastating serve, which often exceeds 140mph. “He already is the best on the ATP Tour in this category" says Paul Roux, who also appreciates the "heavy forehands" of the young champion and “the strength of his volleys.”
His Davis Cup captain also notes his mental qualities: “Milos is not fazed by anything, he’s very confident in his abilities. That’s important if you want to last on the tour”. And regarding his game, he considers that he still has to progress to make: “in the last year he has improved his forehand, but he still has a lot of work to do to become a complete player”. Paul Roux also notes two main weaknesses: “His movement can be a bit clumsy and his returns are quite average.”
The John Isner Rule
However, his followers consider that Milos Raonic has a great shot at getting into the world top 10 very soon. According to Paul Roux: “If John Isner did it, there is no reason for him not to reach it too because Milos has similar qualities, but he’s better overall.” Confident, Martin Laurendeau asks for patience. “Experience matters more and more, so he has to forge ahead, to learn from the best. After all, he’s only 21…” He is coming back without a complete season behind him, the year 2011 having been disrupted by an injury that kept him away all summer.
If the Quebec coach is protective of the best element in the national team, it’s because he knows that he has a true gem here. His current ranking of 23 and his three titles on the tour (San Jose 2011 and 2012, Chennai 2012) already make him the most successful singles player in the history of tennis in his country, and a tremendous standard bearer of his sport. “With Milos and Vasek Pospisil, without forgetting Akesandra Wozniak in the ladies, Canadian tennis is booming. We have re-joined the world group of the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, the Rogers Cup is getting more and more popular every year. It is all very encouraging.” At least as much as this statistic: with an average of 20 aces per match, the Canadian is already world number 1 in the servers ranking.
By Régis Delanoë