I wrote this article for a men’s interests website as part of their sports section in June 2011 just as Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic was to play in his very first Wimbledon. A few days later, he injured himself in his second round match and was out for most of the remainder of the year.
It’s interesting to note that the tone around Milos has changed in two years. Then, he was an up-and-coming star who was touted to reach the top 10 and win a major. Now, those two things have not yet happened and there is a sense of disappointment surrounding his game: he hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of a major; hasn’t won either a Masters 1000 or 500 level title; and hasn’t been past the second round at Wimbledon.
Milos Raonic: Do you believe the hype?
If you still haven’t heard of young professional tennis phenom Milos Raonic, you soon will. The buzz around this young guy has been building ever since he exploded onto the world tennis stage (seemingly out of nowhere) in January. At the Australian Open, the first major of the season, he defeated two Top 20 players and reached the fourth round. He experienced a lackluster clay court season in April and May which took the shine off of him and his game. But now, as the tennis world descends upon the sleepy suburban London hamlet of Wimbledon for the biggest tournament of them all, the buzz is building again.
Raonic comes from hockey-obsessed Canada via Titograd, Yugoslavia (now Montenegro). The 6’5” 20-year-old began to play tennis at age eight and became obsessed with the sport. He consistently maintained a high standard of academic excellence expected of him by his parents (who are both engineers). Indeed, Raonic finished high school a month after he turned sixteen. 1. Raonic’s father made a deal with him: until Milos entered the ATP Tour Top 100, he would have to take university courses to backstop his tennis career if that didn’t work out. 2. It’s worked out – and he’s stopped taking those university courses.
At the end of 2010, Raonic was ranked number 156 in the world. Thanks to news-making results early in 2011 (including the Aussie Open fourth round and his first ATP Tour title) he quickly entered the Top 100. He’s currently at number 25. In his home country of Canada, he’s awakened a sleeping giant, hungry for a male Canadian tennis star. No Canadian man has ever reached the heights that Raonic has reached on the ATP Tour singles rankings computer. (Canadian-born Greg Rusedski got to a career high of number 41 before he high-tailed it across the Atlantic to play for Britain in 1995.) 3.
It has always been the Canadian women singles tennis players who have upstaged and outperformed the men on the pro tour. Remember ‘Darling’ Carling Bassett from the mid-1980s – or ‘Hurricane’ Helen Kelesi later in the decade? With the exception of doubles specialist Daniel Nestor (Olympic Gold, multiple Grand Slam winner) and expatriate Greg Rusedski (whose success was mostly under the British flag) Canada has never had a top-level male singles tennis star on the world stage – until now.
It’s not just in Canada that tennis fans are falling all over Raonic. When he burst onto the scene in Australia, tennis legends-turned TV commentators like John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and Brad Gilbert generally genuflected in his direction. 4. The “Maple Leaf Missile” (as Gilbert calls him) packs a serve that clocks in at an insane 150 mph (241 km/h – just sounds bigger doesn’t it?). Raonic’s serve is absolutely huge – Pete Sampras huge. It comes as no surprise that Sampras is his tennis idol – someone whom he met for the first time at a tournament in San Jose in February – a tournament that Raonic ended up winning for his first ATP Tour title. 5.
It was clear after Sampras retired in 2003, that Roger Federer was his heir apparent. Federer’s complete domination of Wimbledon after Sampras left the stage made that perfectly clear. That is not to say that Federer is a carbon copy of Sampras. Federer is a more complete all-court player whereas Sampras was the quintessential serve-and-volleyer. But now, enter Raonic. He is no carbon copy of Federer – or even Sampras for that matter. Raonic appears to be a semi-hybrid of the two – a big, booming serve and big ground strokes.
Raonic may be the real heir apparent to Sampras at Wimbledon – not Federer, but mostly because of that blistering serve. Federer has always had a competent, reliable serve but not one that booms down the service tee like Raonic’s – one that appears like it could leave a cannon-sized hole in the court. Raonic is a big gangly guy who has yet to grow into his body. It’s easy to forget that Raonic is a man just out of his teens. All of his fellow pros should be worried about the day when he eventually fills out and strides onto the court like a Roman gladiator carrying his sword.
It is apparent from Raonic’s results so far this year that his game is best suited to fast courts. A superior early hard court season diminished into a ho-hum slow red clay court season. With a quarterfinal appearance in a grass court warm up tournament in Germany two weeks ago, it seems that Raonic and his big game are back – just in time for Wimbledon. 6.
Wimbledon is a unique and strange place. Domination seems to come in waves: Borg-McEnroe, Becker-Edberg, Sampras, Federer. All of those great players and intense rivals started in the same position as all the other great champions – at the bottom trying to knock off the king. Federer slayed Sampras, who slayed Edberg, who slayed Becker…And what of Nadal? Will his all-or-nothing playing style (and his body) hold out so that he can tenuously remain in the mix?
And what of the gawky big guy Raonic? The scene is set but it’s too early to determine the outcome of Raonic’s first act. He’s cast as David and plays like Goliath.
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