Raonic a potential danger for US Open?

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With his quarter final appearance last week in his home tournament of Toronto, Milos Raonic made the top twenty of the ATP rankings for the first time in his career, the current high of No. 19 being a record in Canada. While Greg Rusedski would later go on to be world number four, he was ranked at just 47 when he made the switch to represent Great Britain. Many believe that the Montenegran-born star has the potential to be top of the pack when the current crop depart or begin to falter. The upcoming US Open could be just the opportunity for him to establish himself as a threat to the top dogs.

While Raonic had been floating around the challenger circuit in 2010, it was the hard courts in early 2011 that saw him finally make his mark on the tennis world. As a qualifier in the Australian Open, he made the fourth round after defeating Bjorn Phau, Michael Llodra and mostly impressively, Mikhail Youzhny. While it was a step too far in round four, Raonic did take a set off David Ferrer before falling to a four set defeat.

Raonic then took the first title of his career when he defeated Fernando Verdasco in San Jose. When Verdasco was defeated again the following week in Memphis (where Raonic made the final again), it sparked a mini feud between the two. With three tiebreaks in the five sets contested in their two encounters, the Spaniard felt that Raonic’s game was far too reliant on his serve and not enough on his rallying ability. Verdasco did get revenge later in the year with victories over Raonic in Rome and Estoril to cap off a fairly tame clay season.

“For me that’s not a real match in tennis, I hope to play soon against him in clay court to show him what it is to play tennis, and play rallies, and run, and not (just) serve.” – Verdasco after defeat in Memphis

When you look at Raonic’s game, there is little shock when you find out that his childhood hero was Pete Sampras. While Raonic is yet to master the American’s trademark serve and volley style, he does possess a monstrous serve that could well match up. The numbers that he has been putting up are extraordinary. On the year he leads the tour in 1st Serve Points Won % and Service Games Won % while also amongst the leaders in Break Points Saved and 2nd Serve Points Won. Only John Isner has served more aces on the year although Raonic’s average of 15 aces per game is superior.

While it is obviously too early to write off Raonic’s chances on grass, there has been nothing to get excited about so far. Injury curtailed his Wimbledon 2011 (and subsequently, much of the rest of the year) early in the second round. After a full year, and two more ATP titles, much more was expected than a tame four set exit in the second round. In a battle of two big serving North Americans, it was Sam Querrey that came out on top in a match that involved three tiebreaks.

With the Olympics in London, there was another chance for Raonic to make a splash on the grass. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong side of a record breaking match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The 3-6 6-3 23-25 defeat was the longest match in games played in a three setter at the Olympics. Raonic’s troubles on return showed again as he failed to take seven of the eight break point chances he had created.

With a potential top 16 seed up for grabs, he could quite well cause damage in New York. He is hitting form at just the right time, and the fifth set tiebreak rule avoids the trouble of extended final sets should he go deep. Having missed the tournament last year, it will be intriguing to see how he fares on these courts. A guaranteed fifteen aces or more is never a bad thing and it is clear that he enjoys playing in North America going by results so far, even if the majority of his successes have been on indoor courts. Raonic’s movement is still fairly questionable at times and may be exposed by elite players in the latter stages.

Raonic toughed out a three setter with Tomas Berdych last night in Cincinnati to make his second quarter final in as many weeks where he faces a very winnable match against the unseeded Stanislas Wawrinka.

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