INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Milos Raonic looked like a new player at the start of the season, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open before a mid-match injury sidelined him until Indian Wells, where he's reached the fourth round. The world No. 14 has added former world No. 1 Carlos Moya as a coach alongside Riccardo Piatti, and has substantially improved his net game. He talks about his Grand Slam chances, avoiding more injuries and getting to play in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game.
Your great performance in Australia—Do you feel you reached a new level there?
Yeah, I think so. I think I'm playing much better than I have ever before. I'm moving much better, and I'm using my game much better. I've improved small aspects, some more than others. I think a lot of people highlighted my movement forward, but I think that has also allowed me ... I don't think I hit many volleys behind the service line anymore, which I think I would sometimes get stuck behind. All of these little things just compound, and they make a big difference. And I think there's a big difference in my game, and I'm always trying to add to it.
Was it frustrating to get injured just as you were playing so well?
Yeah. Probably two hours [following the semifinals against Andy Murray at the Australian Open], I sent the most aggravated message to my group chat—I had to apologize before the next day. But when you step back and assess where I was during 2015, it's a big difference.
What have you been doing between then and now. Are you fully fit now?
I'm moving well, and these sort of things. I haven't been able really to play, other than mini-tennis and hitting from the center of the court. I started only doing lateral movement play-wise—not in a controlled setting—when I got here.
I'm serving well. That's going to keep me alive, and the other things ... can catch up.
You've had a few injuries during your career. Have you changed anything to try to prevent it?
Yeah, I try to change every single thing. Let's say if I practice at 10:00, I start at 8:00—my warm-up, to really be on top of things, to mobilize properly, to take care of things. Who knows what is the right solution is for me? Maybe sometimes I do too much and it tires me mentally, but I want to try everything so I can find those answers and those solutions.
What opportunities do you see for yourself at the top of the men's game this season?
I think I can definitely give myself a great opportunity to win a Slam. I think the other goals fall hand in hand with that.
Being No. 1 is a way away. That takes a bundle of Slams within 12 months. But I think I can really step up, play well and give myself a great opportunity.
Novak Djokovic has been the dominant player for a while. Do you believe, with your game, that you can challenge him?
I believe so. I think the match I came in the most against him, and I had the best chance on him—it wasn't the best surface for it—was the semifinal in Rome.
That was a semifinal, and I think I only came in “that” much in the semifinal. Now I do that in every single match, so I think I'm much more comfortable. I hope if I get in the same [position against him], I can be more thoughtful and clear about what I want to do.
You had a few changes to your team at the beginning of the season. Do you feel you've got used to everything?
I think so. The great thing about Carlos is he's very relaxed. I don't think he's ever talked about being No. 1 in the world. He's put his ego aside completely. He's given everything towards me being better. [He’s] probably the most open person I've ever worked with. I think every practice finishes with the conversation of, ‘Did you like what we did? What can we do better?’ So I think those things add up. The atmosphere on the team is a little bit different. I like the structure I have around me.
How are you managing the balance between Piatti and Moya?
Carlos is doing mostly tournaments, especially with the way he communicates with me. And Riccardo is doing mostly the work weeks.
Riccardo is through and through a coach. Carlos is a former player who coaches. So Riccardo likes to be on court six hours a day. He finds in that his greatest moments.
In tournaments, when you practice for an hour and spend the rest of the day resting ... I think Carlos can be more efficient.
There's been a lot of talk about your net game and coming forward. Why did you decide to start doing that now?
I've been playing, but I haven't been playing [full-time] for nine months. I didn't feel I could really train. I finished the season in Asia, [and] I don't think I practiced once in between. When I'm not practicing, I have a lot of time to reflect. What can I do better? And I watch a lot of tennis. I love watching tennis.
And when the discussion came up, who can I work with next, that was a key aspect to that.
Has it had any impact that you spent all that time watching Pete Sampras as a kid?
For sure. That has helped me. I've also called numerous people to see what I should be doing up there. With every single person I called to see if we could have [a coaching arrangement] working together, that is an aspect I wanted included in the steps forward. I watched a lot of video. I've watched [Pat] Rafter, I've watched [Richard] Krajicek to understand what I need to do to [get] up there and to be better up there.
Just talk about being in the All-Star Celebrity Game. You were excited about it.
Yeah, it's probably the most enjoyable 40 minutes I've ever had competing at something. I think I played the whole time with a smile on my face, and I can be pretty stoic on the tennis court. It was in the complete sense of the cliché, "a dream come true."