Canada’s Milos Raonic, fast-rising at Wimbledon, still has room to improve

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Rod Laver asked the Australian media to go easy on Nick Gyrgios and let him grow.

The same can be said about Milos Raonic.

Raonic is already the greatest male singles player ever from Canada. Even if he never wins a Grand Slam, he’s still a hero in his country just for winning events and making the Wimbledon semi-finals.

But fans are greedy, and they want instant results. Many demand more than a semi-final berth at Wimbledon. Raonic, poised and charming during a live TV interview on ESPN, also said his goal wasn’t to make it only to the quarters. It’s clear he wants to beat everybody he plays, and he’s building the tools to do that.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much Canadian success, especially on the singles side, in the men’s side,” Raonic told reporters, talking about history and his ambitions. “It’s about trying to become the best player in the world.”

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Raonic’s strengths are obvious to the growing number of Canadians watching him. He has beefed up his legs to add power and torque to his missile serves, especially his high-kicking second serves that often ace or handcuff opponents who can’t deal with high balls on their backhand. Raonic has worked hard to improve his footwork, backhand, and mental toughness on crunch points. He’s become adept at grooving into a rhythm and winning his service games handily. Against Kyrgios, he won 9 straight games at love on his serve, a phenomenal stat.

He’s also improved on the little things that often decide matches. Opponents used to nail shots at Raonic’s body or feet to tie up or trip up the big fella. Raonic handled those against Kyrgios, who upset Nadal the previous day.

Yet Raonic’s match against Kyrgios, 19, also showed areas for improvement. Casual mistakes crop up, such as slicing wide a backhand volley at match point. Like other players, he gets into bad patches and can’t quickly get out. Despite his efforts at conditioning, the big Canadian still can’t move easily enough to consistently outlast grinders like Nadal, Djokovic or Ferrer bent on wearing him out. Most importantly, Raonic still repeatedly fails to take advantage of opportunities to break serve.

Raonic isn’t the only player guilty of this, and it’s not easy to break guys who make a living holding serve. This return-game weakness has become apparent only because Raonic has worked hard to put himself in a position to at least have break point chances. Most players never get to that point.

On break points, it’s often a matter of luck, and Raonic has the intelligence and self-awareness to recognize this for what it is.

The question now is how far he’ll go. He ended 2013 by winning Bangkok and losing the Japan Open finals to Del Potro at the end of 2013. (see photos) 

 

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He’s reached at least the quarters 7 of his 10 events in 2014. He lost to Dimitrov in the 3d round in Melbourne, beat Murray then lost to Dolgopolov at the Indian Wells quarters, lost to Wawrinka in the Monte-Carlo quarters, lost to Djokovic in the Rome semis and the quarters at Roland Garros.

Can he win a slam this year?

That might be too much to ask, just yet. Champions like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray aren’t holding the door open for any newcomers. For now, Canadian tennis fans should appreciate Raonic for what he already is — one of the top ten players in the world, and a threat to go deep into any event. 

— text, images copyright Christopher Johnson, Globalite Media —

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