The ATP will return to the Rogers Cup in Canada next week. That means once again “Milos Mania” will descend upon Montreal as the nation’s No. 1 Milos Raonic attempts to win his home title. Though he currently sits at a career high ranking of No. 13, there is still a feeling of uncertainty around the 22-year-old who has achieved much but still feels like an underachiever in some ways, but only because of the massive amounts of expectation that continue to be placed on his very tall shoulders.
With one of the biggest serves in the game, Raonic burst from almost out of nowhere two years ago to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open. At the end of 2011, he earned the ATP Newcomer of the Year Award and climbed to No. 25 in the world. Many expected him to be in the top ten in no time at all.
But that didn’t happen as injury forced him off the tour midway in 2012. Despite reaching the fourth round at the U.S. Open and then this year again in Melbourne, Raonic has yet to feel like a real threat to the “Big Four” that currently dominate the sport and the Grand Slams. The Canadian recently parted ways with his long-time coach Galo Blanco after Madrid and hired former top five player Ivan Ljubicic to get him to the next level.
As noted Canadian tennis journalist Tom Tebbutt said after the split with Blanco. “There has been a sense of stagnation over the past few months and when that happens in any sport, the coach or manager is always on the hot seat. There has been persistent criticism of Raonic’s return of serve and his backhand, but he has lost several matches in 2013 more because he has simply made bad shots in crucial situations.”
Raonic may have a massive serve, but at times in many of his matches it feels like all he has going for him is his big serve. When that isn’t working as well as he’d like, Raonic is vulnerable to early round upsets from opponents who feel if they can get the 6’5″ Canadian off-balance just enough, they have a chance for the win.
There’s also a feeling that the very affable Raonic is perhaps a tad “too nice” on court. By that I mean, he’s been involved in some lengthy matches including one against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Olympics last summer that the Frenchman won 25-23 in the third set. Raonic, after coming up on the losing end of these tight contests, often looks happy to have competed well, but not terribly upset that he lost. Maybe he vents his frustrations out later, and he is known to have a temper at times, but some continue to wonder just how badly Raonic wants to win out there when the score is close.
In a current season where 13 men over the age of 30 have won ATP titles, it’s easy for some to criticize the younger Raonic for not having done more as once expected. When Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, also 22, reached the semis of Wimbledon last month, some wished that Raonic would play more like the big serving Janowicz who possesses better movement and touch than the Canadian does right now. Bu that’s an unfair comparison considering we don’t know yet how much better Raonic can become. That criticism also has a taste of “sour grapes” mixed in as well for those who again predicted Raonic would be much further along rankings and results wise than he has so far posted.
The use of the word “stagnation” from Tebbutt earlier is a good one to describe the current plateau Raonic rests on. His “A” game of big serves and big forehands has certainly been a successful formula for him, but not enough to become a real contender for the biggest titles. Raonic has held “one to watch” status for some time. But people are getting tired of watching and waiting for him to make the next move. If his new coach Ljubicic can help him do just that remains to be seen.
Time is definitely on Raonic’s side and with a few more good results he should break into the top ten. Winning a major still feels very far away yet such an achievement can only start when Raonic begins beating the elite on a more regular basis. After a decent though not exceptional year so far, the Canadian has a chance to jump start the second half of the season in front of a nation obsessed with hockey but very much embracing their unexpected tennis star. If Raonic, with all his recent changes, is hoping to start the next chapter of his tennis career, there’s certainly no place like home.