Written by: By Richard Llewellyn Evans
Photo Credit to: ©AFP/Getty Images
Many people like San Jose but Milos Raonic knows his way to and around it more than most.
Three of his five ATP titles have come at the Californian city that has rocketed from little more than a coastal hamlet half a century ago to the 10th largest city in the USA today.
It’s a speed of change the young Canadian can most definitely identify with. And when talk turns to Raonic, speed is nearly always the operative word.
There’s no getting away from the serve. It’s quite simply monumental and has thrown up 2,640 aces in his career to-date, that’s 110 sets worth alone.
It’s not surprising in many ways, Raonic matching the contemporary and almost compulsory photofit of height (1.96m) and lean bulk (90kg). Fail to start with a bang against him and you’ll most likely lose, the Fedex Index showing that he nearly always wins a match once the the first set is in the bag, a 0.949 success rate there the staggering and key stat.
Raonic is 23 years old, now the eleventh best player in the world and armed with the base experience and maturity to launch an assault on the elite few. Therefore 2014 is shaping up as a defining year for the man who grew up trying to emulate Pete Sampras. But there’s a lot more to the Montenegro-born player than just a serve.
There’s the family history for starters, Raonic’s parents uprooting Milos and his siblings to Toronto when he was just three-years-old. Nothing too unusual there but it was done to achieve and achievement of some kind is quite clearly a staple in the Raonic household, dad Dušan holding a doctorate in engineering while his mother and sister have masters degrees each. Then there’s the uncle, a former government minister back in Montenegro while Milos has already set up his own charitable foundation, to help children needing prosthetic limbs to play sport. You get the picture.
It was always going to be this way, early tennis lessons in suburban Toronto with Dušan at the start and end of the day as “the ball machine was cheaper in these hours”, led gradually to an impressive if not overly revealing, ranking of 156 on his 20th birthday.
The breakthrough came just days later in January 2011 when ‘the missile’ as he was understandably becoming known, stormed through the Australian Open qualifying and onto the fourth round of the men’s draw, downing Michael Llodra and the world’s tenth best player at the time, Mikhail Youzhny, alone the way.
The rankings leap was immense, up to 94, the confidence boost more so as weeks later Raonic took his first ATP title in San Jose, Gael Monfils in the last four and world number nine Fernando Vedasco in the final, the stand out victims. By the time the Davis Cup came along in early March he was up to 37 in the rankings and has been edging steadily upward ever since.
A stalling of the ways in the first half of last year led to a new coach, Ivan Ljubicic, coming on board to head up Team Raonic that also comprises the ‘must have’ travelling fitness trainer and physio.
And it’s working – Raonic briefly cracking the top 10 in August 2013 and just missing out on the end of year ATP finals. But he says, he’s now ready for the next phase.
“I’ve focused a lot on what I need to do to compete against the top guys,” says Raonic. “But not just when I’m playing them, when I’m playing all my other matches too. It’s about being more aggressive, trying to dictate more and more, trying to have the match in my hands as much as I can and have it depend on me.”
First though it’s points to defend at the Australian Open, he reached the last 16 in 2013, and then there’s the crack at a first grand slam quarter final. It will come.
The San Jose tournament meanwhile, is sadly no more, Raonic the final winner in its 125 year history last year with his hat trick of titles. It is though, unlikely to be the only time in his career he makes history.
Raonic will continue his Australian Open campaign on Thursday against Victor Hanescu of Romania in the third match on Court 13.
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