Tennis Elbow: Trending upward

February 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Welcome to the second season of Tennis Elbow. Once again in 2013, the column will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon ponders what a third SAP Open in a row means for Milos Raonic.

By now, it’s a trend. Right?

The first time Milos Raonic won the SAP Open title in San Jose, in 2011, occurred just as the young Canadian burst into the ATP World Tour scene.

Then 19 years of age, Raonic was unknown to most of the tennis community. Even in Canada, he was little more than a footnote, and no one would have been surprised if he became only the latest of Canadians with a middling tennis career because that’s what Canadians were better known for. Raonic had made the fourth round of the Australian Open after qualifying for the main draw, but what’s to say that this couldn’t have all been a fluke? Did Raonic possess all the tools or was he simply the product of a great serve — a lanky kid with a great serve? Who cares because at the 2011 SAP Open, all he needed was a serve.

The following year, Raonic won the title once again. Was it more than just a coincidence? Probably. His 2011 party had been derailed by a hip injury at Wimbledon, and Raonic was probably just happy to be back in form in San Jose. Still, he won. He showed everyone that he could maintain his good ranking by defending 250 points.

Another SAP Open title this season for Raonic means it’s a trend. It validates everything that came before. It’s Raonic looking at the rest of the Tour and telling everyone, “Well. I’m here now.”

Maybe he hasn’t enjoyed lasting successes on the biggest stages of the circuit, but who exactly can say they have with the domination of King Roger, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and the Djoker in years past? Raonic is still just 22 years of age, and he’s ranked No. 14 on Tour. He may or may not become a superstar but it will not happen overnight.

Raonic’s progression is steadily trending upward. Let that be enough for now.

The 2013 edition of the tournament was the last in the 125-year history of the event, as the SAP Open will not be part of the ATP calendar next season. It may only be a World Tour 250 event, but don’t dismiss it as nothing. Many of the biggest names in history have won the SAP Open, from Arthur Ashe to Ivan Lendl, and from Pete Sampras to Andre Agassi. Plus, any title is better than the alternative.

Of course, some events are bigger than this one and it’s better to win Roland Garros on a yearly basis than it is to take home 250 points from the SAP Open — no one is denying that. But if winning an indoor title were so easy, then surely American John Isner (i.e. another lanky kid with a great serve) would have done it by now. Meanwhile, Raonic has twice defended this title, on a surface that is perfectly suited for his game.

But that doesn’t mean that his game will be perfect on said surface, although Raonic’s has been. He didn’t lose his serve against Tommy Haas in the final, firing 19 aces against 0 break points, and that’s a large reason why he won 6-4 and 6-3. In three years in San Jose, Raonic won 12 of 12 matches and 24 of 24 sets played. He’s King of the (small) San Jose Hills.

But starting next year, this tournament will be history. Raonic will need to start a new trend — but elsewhere.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @CeeeBG

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