Work in Progress: Thoughts from Milos Raonic
NEWPORT, R.I.—Milos Raonic’s big game isn’t precisely what Jack Kramer had in mind many years ago, but the 21-year-old serving star nevertheless plays very big. He is still developing his risky and aggressive tactics, but he is generally considered to have the best chance of winning a Grand Slam title among his contemporaries, including Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov, and Bernard Tomic. Whether Raonic will burst through and do that is one of the great debates among tennis cognoscenti today. So far, his best showing at a major was a fourth-round appearance at the 2011 Australian Open, when Raonic became a household name—at least in tennis circles.
Playing on the grass this week in Newport, R.I., the 23rd-ranked Canadian shared his thoughts about honing his competitive instincts, and what he’s learned from some of his big losses this season.
Second-Round Wimbledon Loss to Sam Querrey
I was a little bit disappointed. I felt I could’ve played a lot better. I don’t feel I competed my best. I felt like I had opportunities to win, but I didn’t go about it the right way. I really was hard on myself afterward and thought about it for a long time. I was able to take away a lot of insights so the same result doesn’t happen again. These Wimbledons and Grand Slam tournaments are so rare and few a year that you have to make the most of them.
Third-Round Loss to Juan Monaco at the French Open
I lost in five sets. I could’ve played a little bit better, but I thought the one thing I really did well there was compete well. I wish I could’ve put a bit more of that into the Wimbledon match. Competing well means that you forget everything you’ve got to do other than win. It doesn’t matter how poorly you are playing, how frustrated you are, how much pain you are in—unless it’s something that can become serious or get worse—forget everything else. If you win, you have a day off, or if you don’t have another day off, you have a chance to play better the next day.
Losing to Roger Federer in the Third Set Three Times This Year, 6, 6 and 4.
I lost to him in Halle, Madrid, Indian Wells. If I step up and I compete with him shot for shot—and a lot of his shots are better than mine, but I feel that my serve gives me a big pump and puts pressure on my opponents—I feel like I’m there. I need to pick up a lot more experience and keep improving a lot of things, lessen the gap in my movement and my other shots compared to Federer and the other top players.
Also, I have to learn how to deal with the important situations better. When I played him in Madrid, I had a lot of break point chances, but he played those points much better than I did. He has the experience to know what he needs to do and he doesn’t question himself. Sometimes I question myself, and I think when I get more experience, I won’t question myself in those big moments. My game is to go for it as early as I can in a point and get in an aggressive position and dictate as much as I can. I want to make my opponent adjust to me rather than me adjusting to him, and I want to make him as uncomfortable as possible. I want to play short points and risk a little bit more and go for big shots.
Did Federer Give Him Any Tips?
He’s wished me well, but it’s a very competitive atmosphere out there. He’s not going to give me any tips after I’ve gone 6 in the third twice with him.
Can Raonic Move Well Enough to Win a Slam?
I’m a big guy, 6’5”. I don’t think my hip injury (a partially-torn labrum that required surgery last year after Wimbledon, which kept Raonic sidelined through the U.S. Open) has anything to do with how well I’m moving. I feel like I’m moving better now than last year. I feel like the way I’m moving now, I’m not that far off from Federer. It’s something that needs to get better, but I’m willing and open to put in the work.
Is Playing More Serve-and-Volley Tennis in Raonic’s Future?
Yes, you can play serve-and-volley [on the fast courts]. It’s something I’m trying to incorporate more and more. It’s another element of surprise and pressure to put on my opponent. I want to find a way to use it as much as I can. I think I can use it once or a little bit more than once on average in every one of my service games.
What Did Raonic Learn from Playing Pete Sampras in an Exhibition?
It was last year in Toronto. My childhood fantasy was fulfilled. I watched him so many times. I practiced with him and spent a full day-and-a-half with him, and from a maturity perspective, it helped me because I tried to pick his brain and learn as much as I could. The thing he said that sticks out the most is: “When you’re a good competitor, all you think about is winning. Champions know how to win, when they’re not playing their best.”
The Face of Canadian Tennis
I grew up in Thornhill, a 10-minute drive north of Toronto. I trained eight years with Casey Curtis in Toronto, three years in the Canadian National Tennis Center in Montreal, and the last two years in Spain at my coach, Galo Blanco’s, club called 4 Slams in Barcelona. I think the training is great in Spain, but at the same time, it’s the competitive atmosphere there that’s helped me learn how to win matches. Training there has made it easier to deal with life on the tour.
I’ve developed my game in a lot of different places, but I’m still very much involved with tennis in Canada. I think they have a lot of great things going. We just had boys’ and girls’ champions in Wimbledon. Canada is on the right track. What I’ve been able to do is give a little more belief to the players in Canada with the work they’re doing.
The Over-30 Crowd Is Making It Harder for Young Guns to Shoot to the Top
I think it’s a different time. There are no guys in the top that are even 19 like there were before. Look at Federer and how well he’s playing at 30. You have Radek Stepanek, 33 years old, playing Top 30 tennis. David Ferrer and Mardy Fish are both 30 and in the Top 10. Until recently, Feliciano Lopez, also 30, was playing Top 20 tennis. So they’re giving less young players a chance to squeeze through.
Dan Markowitz is the co-author of the book Break Point, with Vince Spadea. He is working on a book about the men's pro tennis tour and is a frequent contributor to TENNIS.com.