Exclusive Q&A with Marcel Granollers

January 31, 2013

by Nima Naderi

Proving himself as an important member of the Spanish Armada, 26-year-old Marcel Granollers has the all-important task of leading his Davis Cup team against a dangerous Canadian squad in Vancouver this weekend.

Entering the tie off of a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open with partner Marc Lopez, the reigning Barclays ATP World Tour Finals doubles winner has quietly put together the best twelve months of his career.

Currently ranked No. 34 in singles and No. 5 in doubles, Granollers provided some insight into his pre-season regime, how he almost didn’t make it to the Tour Finals and who the best video gamer is amongst his Spanish compatriots.

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Q) How did it feel to win the Tour finals and reach the Australian Open semifinal? At this stage do you believe you can win a grand slam in singles or doubles?

A) The World Tour Finals was unexpected. I had a bad shoulder going into the event and I didn’t have great expectations.
It got better match by match and the feeling in the end was really overwhelming, especially because we got so much support from the crowd and from home. In Australia it was different. I must say that I was hoping to make the finals this time and play the Bryan brothers. We were disappointed.

In the future, who knows. We are a young partnership and we will continue playing together, so sooner or later I hope we will go all the way.

In singles it is quite a bit tougher. I reached the fourth round at my best slam, so I need to work a bit longer to improve.

Q) What were the major factors that contributed to you finishing No. 34 in singles and No. 10 in doubles to end 2012?

A) I have worked constantly during the last years and didn’t have many ups and downs. My mental strength has improved thanks to all the matches that I’ve played on a high level and thanks to the day to day work.

Q) Talk about being on Tour for the past 10 years? What type of friendships have you developed on Tour? Who are your best friends?

A) I am very good friends with most of the Spanish players. We know each other since we were under 12 or so. It is long-time friendships that will surely last after the end of our tennis careers. Marc (Lopez) is my best friend.

Q) Which Spanish players are the most fun to be around? Who is the most serious off court? Who is the best at video games? Who usually ends up paying for dinner when you go out as a group?

A) The funniest guys are probably Feliciano Lopez or Marc Lopez; you laugh a lot with them. Impossible to find a serious one outside the court, we make fun of each other all the time, although we don’t do crazy things. Video game champions are probably David (Ferrer), Rafael (Nadal) and Marc (Lopez). When we go out we always split the bill, just like regular friends.

Q) Having the best year of your career in terms of singles and doubles ranking, what goals have you set for yourself heading into 2013?

A) I want to keep improving my game. It is difficult to set yourself a ranking target, because everybody is working hard out there and there are a lot of young players coming through. Let’s say that I want to keep being seeded at the slams and slowly move forward.

Q) Can you specifically state what your fitness program consists of? What do you eat during tournaments? What kind or rituals do you have before matches? How many rackets do you string up every day? What tension do you use and does that change on different surfaces? Do you enjoy working out? How many hours of sleep do you try and get before a match day?

A) I have a good physical base, I have great endurance and I like to work on it. What we improved in the years is my speed and coordination. I don’t have a diet, I just stay away from fats and try to eat fruit and vegetables. I normally have a snack before the match, then I go back to the locker room with Fernando Vicente, we speak a bit about the match and we wait together, away from people and the noise. I try to have always four new racquets each match so that I don’t need to string while I am playing. I usually go up a bit in tension when I play on hard court. Let’s say normally on clay I string between 24-23 kg, and then on hard court I am stringing 25-24 kg. I love working out every day, but I need competition. If I don’t compete I get bored of practicing. I try to get nine hours of sleep, never less than eight.

Q) Was there ever a time during your career when you thought of quitting the sport? When the pressures of competing or traveling were too much for you?

A) I never really thought about quitting. But there was a period a few years ago, when I saw everybody so much stronger than myself and I talked myself down a lot. I was starting to play qualifying at the slams and doubted if I would ever make it.

Q) What do you enjoy the most about traveling on Tour?

A) I love traveling and I like to have a look around when I go places. I like to meet new people.

Q) Who was your tennis idol growing up?

A) I didn’t have any idols but I liked Marat Safin, Carlos Moya and Lleyton Hewitt.

Q) Which tournament would you most like to win and why?

A) The Open de Godo in Barcelona. I moved to that club when I was 12 years old and have been a member ever since. I used to go and watch the tournament with my dad and it’s a nice feeling to play it with all my family watching, even those who never travel with me.

Q) Do you see Spain continuing to be a dominant force in men’s tennis going forward? Are there any young prospects coming up and if so who are they?

A) Well, it is difficult to say. The level of Spanish tennis has never been this high in our history, so it will be difficult to keep it up for the next generation. There are some good, young players like Javier Marti, but it takes many years to move from juniors to pro tennis so they need some more time.

Q) What does it mean for you to play Davis Cup? How was your Olympic experience this year?

A) It is great to play Davis Cup, especially with these team members, incredible sport icons. Davis Cup is always sold out in Spain and people really feel it. I enjoyed staying at the Olympic village, seeing how other athletes live and worked. It was a unique chance to become friends with other sports personalities.

Q) Fans and commentators have made reference to your grunting during the past year. Can you talk about why you do it and if you care if it bothers your opponent or the fans?

A) I know, but it is something out of my control. When I am tense or really tired I grunt sometimes. But it is not something I think of, it just happens.

Q) Where do you see the future of tennis going? Will we see more serve and volleyers coming up, or will the game be dominated by baseliners for the foreseeable future?

A) I believe that players will play more from the baseline and hit harder and harder.

Q) What’s your favorite surface to play on and are surfaces getting slower for faster?

A) The courts are getting slower everywhere now, even the grass is slowing down. Two years ago the courts at Paris Bercy were really fast, but they made those slower now too.

Q )How long do you see yourself playing on Tour? Can you see yourself playing doubles into your 40s?

A) I hope that I can keep up this level for a long time. I don’t know if I will be able to play that long. I have lot of respect for those players that can still deliver great tennis into their 40s. I am constantly playing singles and doubles but I doubt that I will last that long.

Q) How would you describe yourself as a player and a competitor? Would you say you’re more relaxed on court and off court, or are you always living life with a sense of urgency?

A) Outside of the court I am quite relaxed, I sleep a lot and enjoy life. I take my time to eat, talk and do things slowly. Once I get on the court things change, then the competitor comes out and my energy level rises. I become really active and intense.

Q) Where is your favorite place to visit or vacation to when you’re not competing or off Tour?

A) Anywhere where I can find the sea, the beach and a good temperature.

Q )What is the most powerful and important shot in men’s tennis right now? Who currently owns it?

A) The most important shot is the serve. John Isner owns it.

Q) Finally, why did you want to be a tennis player as a kid?

A) Yes, since I can remember, that’s all I ever wanted to be.

Exclusive Q&A with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

May 18, 2012

With the help of Adidas, we recently had the opportunity to field some questions to world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the video link below.

Reaching the quarterfinal round or better of six ATP World Tour events this year, Tsonga revealed his secrets toward breaking a top four ranking, who his toughest rival has been on Tour, and which player has the best dance moves off the court.

Exclusive Q&A with Flavio Cipolla

April 26, 2012

by: Nima Naderi

Reaching a ranking high of No. 70 on the ATP World Tour this week, Italian veteran Flavio Cipolla is quietly putting together the best season of his nine year career.

Advancing to his first Tour semifinal during the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco, Cipolla recorded his second career victory over up-and-coming Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second-round.

Possessing a solid one-handed backhand and great flair for the game, Cipolla had a chance to answer some of our questions before resuming his clay-court season at the Estoril Open in Portugal.

The Roma native didn’t hold back when discussing his training regimen, favorite tournament to win, and what factors will bring Italian tennis back to the forefront of the sport.

Q. What would you pin-point as the main cause of your recent string of good results?

A. I have been producing good results for a year now and I am constantly at a high level that allows me to play with the best players in the world. I wouldn’t say that there has been one particular factor for my recent results. I have always trained to improve all around and not forget any aspect [of my game]. If I had to find one [thing] to change above anything else, I would say that I have to play more aggressively compared to before.  As time goes on, players need to be able to impose their game plans if they want to survive [on Tour].

Q. At this stage of your career, what ranking and tournament goals have you set for yourself?

A. For the moment the goal is to enter the top 50.

Q. With the clay-court in full swing, what changes have you made to your daily training?

A. Right after Miami I practiced [for] two weeks on clay in order to arrive as ready as possible for Casablanca. I worked especially [hard] on my endurance and trained with weights as well. I increased the height of my shots over the net on clay, and I have worked on my topspin backhand because I will have to use it more often than on hard courts.

Q. You’ve had some great hard-court wins in the past year, defeating the likes of Alexandr Dologpolov, Bernard Tomic, Kei Nishikori, Ivan Ljubicic and Nikolay Davydenko. Would you say at this point in your career that hard-courts are your favorite surface?

A. Yes, I would say that my favorite surface is fast courts, but I am not 100 percent sure. I was born on clay and I have obtained good results on the surface. To be honest, I think that on a hard court my chances are better for beating a top player than on clay.

Q. After playing on Tour for nearly a decade, what significant changes have you seen from the tournament venues, surfaces and playing styles?

A. I think that the surfaces have become slower compared with a few years ago and in my opinion it is a positive change. I think that the tournaments are constantly trying to improve each year, but the level of the players have improved the most. Tennis has developed much more than other sports during the last 10 years, and the average level [of the players] has risen incredibly.

Q. With six Italian players currently in the top 100, how would you assess the level of your countryman and the future of Italian tennis?

A. The overall level of the Italian players has risen significantly during the last years. We now have six players inside the top 100 and many more inside the top 300. We miss that champion which would further boost the enthusiasm of the country; someone in the top 10 or the top 20. But never say never.

Q. If you could capture any tournament on Tour, which one would it be and why?

A. If I had to choose a tournament then I would have say the Roma Masters. I was born and grew up in Roma and as a youngster I dreamt of participating in the event. The tournament is very close to my heart. The support of the fans is incredible, especially for a Roman like me.

Q. Who is your best friend on the circuit?

A. I have many friends on the circuit. I have a great bond with the Italian players, but I wouldn’t want to pick just one.

Q. What’s the funniest moment you can recall during your playing days?

A. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Exclusive Q&A with Oscar Hernandez

August 22, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

Forced to quit the game he began playing at the age of three because of a debilitating back injury, Spaniard Oscar Hernandez bid a sad farewell to the ATP World Tour at the end of July. Reaching a career high of No. 48 in the world, Hernandez used his consistent back-court game to defeat the likes of Robin Soderling, David Ferrer, Lleyton Hewitt and Mardy Fish throughout his 13 year career.

Joined by Spanish Davis Cup Captain Albert Costa and touring pro Tommy Robredo during his retirement speech, Hernandez will now set his sights on helping Spanish juniors develop their skills.

In the following interview, Hernandez recalls his fondest memories of competing on Tour, as well as his thoughts on the future of the sport within Spain.

Q) At what point did you decide that a successful comeback to the circuit wouldn’t be impossible?

A) Well, I realized that my comeback would be impossible when I made the tests to find out how the shoulder was doing after a long layoff. My doctor said that it had not improved and that it was not going to improve. At that moment I told myself I’d better stop training before I have a chronic injury for the rest of my life.

I sat down and thought a lot about my health and the quality of my life in the future.

Q) What career victory would you hold higher than any other during your playing days?

A) There is not really a special match, but the most important wins were always those when you played at home at the Barcelona tournament. Those are the
matches I have the best memories of because there I was surrounded by my people and my public.

Q) If you could change one result throughout your career to fall in your favor, which one would it be?

A) Without any doubt I would change the result of my back surgery. If the outcome had been different, I would not be retired now and I would have kept competing because that was what I loved most.

Q) What was your favorite event to play on the circuit?

A) For sure the tournament in Barcelona is very special, but for a clay player, Paris remains the most important.

Q) Who aided you the most throughout your development as a player?

A) My father has always been the most important person for my tennis. He has been a friend, my mentor and my number one fan. From the technical side,
Marcos Roy and Ignasi Verdonces have been my mentors.

Q) How do you assess the future of Spanish tennis? Can the fans of the Tour look forward to more champions like Rafael Nadal?

A) In my opinion, I don’t see many new young promising players from our country. Hopefully I am wrong but I find it very difficult if not impossible that another Rafa Nadal may rise.

Q) Who was the most difficult opponent you faced on any surface?

A) Nadal has for sure been and still is a player that when you were facing him you felt that it was impossible to win.

Q) What single piece of advice would you provide to upcoming professionals to aid them in becoming successful Tour players?

A) I would recommend to them that they give everything in each training [session] and each match. It is very difficult to be a top player, therefore if you want to have a chance you need to leave it all on the practice court.

Q) Where will you place your attention now that you have retired from the sport?

A) I have already started to work with Marcos Roy in his tennis academy. I want to try to pass my experience to the younger players. I deeply love tennis and I want to keep being apart of it. Also, I will focus on my wife Rachel (we were married on August 20th) and spend with her all the time that I could not spend with her when I was on the tour.

Q) If you could disclose the funniest moment of when you were competing, what would it be?

A) Two funny things that happened to me were both with Carlos Bernardes as [the] umpire. The first one was at the US Open against [Sebastien] Grosjean. I was losing 6-2, 6-1 and 1-0 when on the changeover Bernardes said “Grosjean leads 1-0, final set.” I went up to him and told him that it was clear that it was going to be the last set because Grosjean was killing me, but that theoretically there could also be two more sets.

The second one was in the last tournament of a long South American tour. I was really tired from all the traveling and all the matches. I was losing very easily when I decided it was too much and I retired, telling Carlos I couldn’t go on. Carlos ended the match saying “Oscar Hernandez retires from mental fatigue.”

Tomas Berdych discusses upcoming QF match

August 11, 2011

by: Lyra Pappin

MONTREAL – With big favourites like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray out, is Tomas Berdych feeling better about his chances against Janko Tipsarevic or Ivan Dodig?  Hear Berdych discuss his side of the draw. Link: Berdych – Absence of Murray and Nadal in my side of the draw changes nothing…

(Thanks to Tennis Radio Network for audio).

Lyra Pappin will be covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal for TennisConnected. You can follow her on Twitter at @allthatracquet.

Catching up with Milos Raonic

August 2, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

Beginning the year ranked No. 156 in the world, young Canadian star Milos Raonic has seen his ranking skyrocket to a current position of No. 29 on the ATP World Tour. Ranked as high as No. 25 in May of this year, Raonic is currently recovering from a hip injury he sustained at Wimbledon.

In the following interview, the intelligent and articulate 20-year-old discusses the current state of his injury; when he intends on returning to action; who he believes will be the best player of the current group and up-and-comers, and finally which players have the best strokes on Tour.

Q) Just getting straight into it here, how has your summer been barring your recent hip injury?

A) It’s been good, it’s been heavy. People think we get injured and we relax but it’s the opposite. It’s about eight hours of rehab a day, six days a week. It’s actually more tiring than being on Tour playing. I’m happy with my progress and how things are going.

Q) Do you have a ballpark figure of when you’re looking to return?

A) Well hopefully the US Open. The thing with injuries are that it really comes down to week-to-week. Right now I’m making some great strides with it. I’ve had two on-court training sessions and things are going very well and ahead of schedule. I don’t want to comeback at 90 percent or 95 percent, I want to comeback at 100 percent and have this injury finished with and behind me.

Q) How do you deal with the pressure filled situations in matches?

A) Oh, the thing is here that you have to believe, and it’s not always easy to believe. You have to, in those situations go with the things that you know best. Go with the patterns that you know best, not something out of the blue. Sometimes people get caught up and down on their game and go with something that they’re not used to, and their chances of succeeding in pressure [situations] drops.

Q) How has your life changed since your rise up the rankings this year? Is your life significantly different than a year ago?

A) Sure, a lot has changed since last year. There are a lot more perks in my life, a lot of things I can enjoy more. Now I get invited to go to different performances all the time, and to different concerts. For example, Drake is playing here in Toronto tonight, and I called this morning because I didn’t have a ticket and I got one. But the most important thing is walking around and people coming up to me and saying hi or asking about my injury. The support is great.

Q) When you play, are you playing for Milos or are you playing for Canada? Can you talk about how Tennis Canada has helped elevate your status to where it is today?

I think one of the reasons that I’m able to deal quite well with the pressure is because when I’m competing or down I’m really playing for myself. I’m not wondering what others are thinking about. I love the outside support, I love the game, and at the end of the day if I win or a lose, I can only blame myself.

Tennis Canada has been a big part of it. I think they have one of the better systems worldwide. It takes time for kids to believe that they can be at the top. I’m willing to be a big part of that. Kids need to want to be there like they believe they can in Hockey.

Q) What changes are looking to make in your game in order to increase your ranking?

A) Improving my returns. If you look at what Novak Djokovic does with his return it’s incredible. Having a chance to hit with him, he gets his racket on every ball. Even if it’s a floater return, he puts pressure on the guy to play another ball. You want to be able to neutralize your opponent and make them hit another ball, and dictate on the next shot.

Q) You’ve been put into this group of up and coming players with Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov, Richard Berankis and Bernard Tomic. Which player in your opinion will have the best career? With all things being equal, and you’re all in the top 10 and battling for Grand Slams, which player will give you the most trouble?

A) Wow, well I hope myself. In terms of potential I would have to say Grigor. But I think mentally out of the group I would have to say Ryan is the best competitor. It’s going to come down to who can work through their weaknesses and improve. But I think if you get into two guys, Ryan has the best competitor in him and Grigor has the most potential.

Q) For our last question, could you provide one player who you think has the best serve, forehand, backhand, movement and who is the best competitor on Tour?

A) Serve: Ivo Karlovic, but in terms of [service] games I would say Roger Federer.

A) Forehand: Federer.

A) Backhand: Djokovic.

A) Movement: Djokovic.

A) Competitor: Nadal, by a long stride.


Exclusive Q&A with Juan Martin del Potro

March 11, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

In this exclusive interview to TennisConnected.com, former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro discusses his return to the ATP World Tour following his injury stricken 2010 season.

Participating at the BNP Paribas Open this week, del Potro managed to win his first Masters 1000 match since November 2009 when he defeated Czech Radek Stepanek in the first-round.

Prior to facing defending champion Ivan Ljubicic in the second-round, del Potro addressed his recent victory at the Delray Beach event in Florida, what aspects of his game he hopes to improve on for the rest of the year, and how much the support of his fans aided him throughout his rehab last year.

Q) After dropping to No. 485 on the ATP World Tour following your second-round defeat at the Australian Open, did you see yourself climbing back into the top 100 in such a short period of time?

A) I knew I could if I was healthy and working hard.

Q) What aspects of your game are you still hoping will improve as the season continues?

A) All the aspect needs to be improved to reach the top.

Q) What are the top priorities in your career at this point?

A) [To] stay healthy, enjoy the game and improve everyday.

Q) Are you looking to play a full clay-court schedule after the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami? Are you looking forward to the challenges of clay court tennis?

A) Yes I will play a few clay court events. I like clay, I was born on it.

Q) Have you noticed any changes on Tour in the last year or so? Have you had to make any adjustments to your game in 2011?

A) Not really, I just started back so I still need to see the difference.

Q) Do you feel the dominance of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will continue this year, or will other players continue to battle for the top titles like Novak Djokovic did at the Australian Open?

A) I think Rafa and Roger are still the best, but Novak and others are getting closer and closer.

Q) Would you say that it’s physically harder to comeback from injury, or mentally more difficult?

A) Both, but maybe the mental part maybe a bit harder.

Q) Finally, how much has the support of your fans throughout the last year meant to you? Do you feel a different level of support from them now when you enter Tour events?

A) I really appreciated the support of the fan also when I was not playing, and now that I am back I feel them even closer than before.

Exclusive Q&A with Philipp Petzschner

February 28, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

After posting a successful year which saw him win the Wimbledon doubles title and finish the season ranked No. 57 in the world, German tennis star Philipp Petzschner has continued his stellar play in 2011 by winning the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament with partner Jurgen Melzer, and most recently advancing to the quarterfinals of the singles draw during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis event.

Possessing one of the most fluid serves in the game, Petzschner discusses his goals for the remainder of the year; how he sees the future of German tennis, and which up-and-coming youngster he feels will have the biggest breakthrough this season.

Q) At this stage of your career, are you concentrating more on your singles results or your doubles events with teammate Jurgen Melzer?
A) First of all I’m only trying to play tennis and have fun with it, but of course I’m concentrating a lot more on my singles even if I’m more successful in doubles at the moment.

Q) After reaching a career high of No. 35 in the world on the ATP World Tour in September of 2009, what kind of ranking goals have you mapped out for yourself in 2011?
A) I want to get [back] to the top 30 and see where it leads [me] from there.

Q) How much did winning Wimbledon with Melzer in 2010 help the confidence and the belief in your game?
A) A lot of course. Winning the biggest tournament in tennis is a great thing and [it] gives you confidence and belief in your game.

Q) John McEnroe has gone on record as saying that he believes that your service motion is the best that he’s ever seen. Can you discuss the elements of your serve that have led you to having such a successful motion? Did you spend a lot of time as a junior developing your delivery?
A) I mean words like this from John McEnroe is an honor, but as anybody else of course I try to practice serving a lot because it’s a key shot in tennis and especially in my game.

Q) To a degree, Germany has not produced the level of singles champions that it once did when Boris Becker and Michael Stich were winning Grand Slam events. Can you provide your thoughts on the state of the men’s game in Germany, and if you believe that the country will once again produce great singles champions?
A) I guess it’s just a matter of time until we create a big champion again. I think we have a lot of really good players in our country but [we're] just missing a top player who boosts up our energy as well.

Q) What would you deem your favorite surface on Tour at this point, considering that you have had great results on all the major surfaces?
A) I’ve always loved playing on grass, especially [at] Halle and [at] Wimbledon.

Q) After being on Tour for 10 years, what significant changes have you seen in the level of play within the top 100? Is the competition on the men’s circuit as strong as it’s ever been?
A) I think the tennis is improving every year and the top 100 are getting better and better.

Q) Which player do least like to face on Tour and why?
A) I think [Rafael] Nadal is the toughest opponent you can face because he just never gives up and is such a great fighter.

Q) Which up-and-coming player from the group of Milos Raonic, Richard Berankis, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov can you see making the biggest impact on Tour?
A) I think Raonic can be a really tough player. When his serve is on he can be hard to beat.

Q) Finally, if you could share one funny locker room story, what would it be?
A)There are too many to pick one but whatever happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.

Exclusive Q&A with Ivan Dodig

February 4, 2011

by: Nima Naderi

Continuing to carve out a late career surge into the top 100 on the ATP World Tour, Croatian Ivan Dodig became the only player during this year’s Australian Open to take a set from eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

With a current rank of No. 84 in the world, Dodig ended his 2010 campaign by winning a Challenger event in Kazakhstan and by reaching the quarterfinals of the If Stockholm Open in Sweden as a qualifier.

Possessing a canon serve and point-ending forehand, Dodig was keen on answering a gamut of questions regarding his upcoming year.

In the interview below, the focused 26-year-old reveals his career ambitions; who he would most like to compete against on Tour, and why the perfect string tension can make all the difference in a competitive match.

Q) What significant changes did you make to your game in order to reach the top 100 on the ATP World Tour for the first time in November of 2010? Was the physical improvement in your game the deciding factor, or, did your confidence play a big part in your rise in the rankings?

A) During the last two years I started to change my tennis game. I started analyzing each single match and to recognize the positive things of each match. Like this I became more confident and I was able to play better and better.

Q) Talk a little bit about the strong tradition of players to come out of Croatia. Was there a lot of pressure on you growing up to following in the footsteps of your idol Goran Ivanisevic?

A) I think that all the Croatian players had difficulties on the way to became great players, even Goran and  [Ivan] Ljubicic. They needed to fight even more than us now because they didn’t have any support when they started their careers. But on the other hand it gave them extra motivation and spirit to show to everybody that they could really make it.

Q) What would you characterize as the single most difficult moment of your rise into the top 100?

A ) A few years ago I was thinking of stopping my tennis career because I didn’t have any financial support to cover all expenses. Now I am really happy because I found a good team around me. They all helped me a lot to become top 100.

Q. Where do you see yourself ranked at the end of 2011? What tournaments on the circuit would you most like to participate in?

A. I would like to see myself inside the top 50, but I know that the road is not easy; I need a lot of work and experience. This year I want to play ATP World Tour tournaments and make some good results on the Tour level.

Q. Your serve and forehand seem to be your two biggest shots. Do you believe that a player can succeed in today’s game without a big serve and a big forehand?

A. I think that the serve is very important nowadays and luckily it’s my favorite shot.  Each player has his natural favorite shot. If I have to choose between my forehand and my serve, I choose my serve.

Q. How much do you tinker with your racket tension during the course of a year? Does a specific surface alter your tension considerably?

A. For me changing the tension is very important because every tournament is different. The surfaces are never really the same and also the balls are different. I need to adjust during the days before the tournament starts. Only when I found the right string tension I can relax and keep all my mental power to be focused during the match.

Q. If you could have a dream match up against any player on any surface and round, who would it be and why?

A. That would be against  [Roger] Federer in Wimbledon because he is the greatest player in history and Wimbledon [is] the greatest tournament.

Q. What would you most like to be remembered for when you’ve finished your career?

A. I would like to be remembered for a grand slam win, and a Davis cup victory.

Q. Who would you consider your best friend on tour?

A. Definitely Marin Cilic. We  come from same city and we grow up together.

Q. If you could disclose one funny locker room story, what would it be?

A. No comment (smiles).

Exclusive Q&A with Milos Raonic

October 9, 2010

by: Nima Naderi

Having qualified for consecutive ATP World Tour events in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, Canadian Milos Raonic is racing towards the top 100 in the world.

Losing a close match to world No. 1 Rafael Nadal during the second-round of the the Japan Open, Raonic provided fair warning to this fellow professionals that his serve and his work ethic will be difficult to combat.

Winning three main draw matches during his successful trip to Asia, the eloquent 19-year-old shared his views on qualifying for the US Open, how he hopes to impact Canadian tennis, and the “little secret” regarding his potent serve.

Q) Discuss your recent success on the circuit, which included qualifying for ATP World Tour events in Kuala Lumpur and Japan? Prior to your success in Asia, you partnered with Vasek Pospisil to upset Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the Rogers Cup. What kind of expectations did you have entering that encounter?

A) My recent success in Asia I feel came as a surprise to many. It has been a level I have been expecting from myself for a while now, and maybe I put too much pressure [on myself] to achieve it quicker than I should [have]. I feel my level is really there at the top of tennis. I do play a big enough game to compete with the best in the world. I obviously need to improve many things in my game to make this level a day in and day out thing, but I feel I am very keen to put in the work and the hours to achieve a career within the top 50 for many years, and provide myself with a very good chance of getting within the top 20 and top 10.

I have put up a few consistent wins over top 100 players so the next thing for me is to get my ranking in the top 100 so I can get past the Challenger level and give myself more and more opportunities to compete against top 20 players. My recent match with Nadal [at the Japan Open] gave me a great perspective on the best player in the world, and where his level is because I want to be there with him. I feel I am not too far off, but of course I have to put in many more hours.

As far as the doubles match as the Rogers Cup with Nadal and Djokovic, I feel it was a great thing for myself and Vasek, but I feel it wasn’t a win that made me feel as good as some of my singles wins. That win was a great experience for recognition and for tennis within Canada. It put me on the map before my recent success in Asia. Before that match I didn’t expect much really, I was nervous [and] it was my first time on court with two players of that caliber in a match situation. It was great, we won and a big win for the both of us. It made me happy to achieve that but I want to be known for my single play and results. I want to make a singles career, I enjoy it more and I want to make a difference in Canada with it. I feel if I was to achieve my goals it could make a great difference on the growth of tennis in Canada and more top players in the future.

I wish to capitalize on my recent success so I can use my momentum and keep rising up the ranks quickly.

Q) You’ve picked up some great wins in the last few months. What factors would you attribute to your increased level of play?

A) My level has increased lately due largely to the amount of effort and work I have put into my tennis this year. Things are starting to click, and the work is starting to pay off, and it’s nice to see it directly through my results. I have gotten fitter and stronger, and most important I have stayed healthy. I have improved my return game so I can keep steady pressure on my opponents service games. If I had to decide which thing helped me the most with my recent success it’s my mental strength. I am able to see the game more clearly and focus better in my matches because I haven’t been losing my temper or letting my mind go “berserk.” I feel much more calm and stable on court knowing I can always find a solution.

Q)Your serve seems to be your biggest asset. Talk about any technical, or tactical, variables that go into your service motion.

A) My serve has always been my biggest weapon, and yet I am not satisfied with it. I think there is much more I can improve with it. I continue to work on it daily with much focus on increasing my proficiency with it and my percentages too. Also how I deal with the shot after the serve has been a very big thing. As long as I take care of my serve I have a chance on any given day with anyone, even if I am not playing my best. Technically, I keep a rhythm in my head. I have done it since I was 10 years old. It’s my little secret. My height and shoulder strength are also big contributors to it being the biggest weapon in my arsenal.

Q) Along with countryman Peter Polansky, you’ve begun a productive rise up the rankings. Do you believe that a strong camaraderie between countrymen is vital to the growth of a successful career, similar to the push that the Spaniards and French players have given each other throughout the years?

A) Yes, for sure it is the biggest reason for the success within those countries. You hear them mention it all the time, and yes I wish there was more camaraderie between the Canadians. We are pioneers to the top echelons of tennis so that will have to come, but for now I need to focus on my game, what I need to improve and reaching my goals.

Q) What parts of your game are you working on in order to break into the upper echelons of the ATP World Tour rankings?

A) Yes, many things that’s for sure, but I don’t feel I am far off. I need to make sure I stay healthy. I need to get my upper body a lot stronger and get my fitness to the point where I can go for hours without feeling a dip in my level. I want to be as sharp on the four hour [mark] as I was on the first. Also, I need to keep strengthening the mental aspects of my game, staying calm and clear minded so I can find the solutions to win matches on days I play well, and especially days where I am not playing [as] well.

Q) What kind of experience did you gain from qualifying for the US Open this year? What type of knowledge did you take away from your first-round loss?

A) Qualifying for the US Open taught me how to deal with the aspect of [playing] tough match after tough match. There were never any easy wins. I feel it’s helped me get a lot stronger mentally. The first-round loss taught me even more. I promised myself to never lose another match because of fitness after that loss. It’s something I can work on and I don’t want to lose because I wasn’t prepared. Carsten Ball played better than me for four sets. That’s what counts. Also, when the fatigue hit me in my match my mental level went down, and it was a tremendous learning experience. For me, it was one of my biggest learning experiences to date.

Q) How would you sum up your first full year on Tour? What aspects of traveling around the world have you enjoyed the most?

A) I love the new experiences and people, and the hospitality tennis players receive worldwide, especially at the ATP tournaments compared to the Challengers. I have always liked having a lot of people close to me so you will always see me on my phone texting back home to either my girlfriend, friends and family. My family is so close and a big part of my tennis and they follow everything and help out with everything. They are there for me regardless of the situation. I wish I could travel with more people around me, but now I am working my way up. Hopefully I make it to the top sooner so they can come along with me.

Q) If you could win one Grand Slam during your career, which one would it be and why?

A) I would love to win Wimbledon. My idol Pete Sampras was so successful there and I saw him win many of them. I would say, though, that the US Open would be what suits my game better, it’s what I have grown up [on] my whole life.

Q) Do you feel that serve and volley tennis can still prevail in today’s rocket baseline game?

A) Yes, it has to be used wisely, but I am sure it can. So many players are good from the baseline and you see the top players working on volleys to take time from their opponents. So why not do it at the start of the point? I think court conditions and balls do make it hard but yes I think someone can make it work. Maybe not every point, but I think it’s still a big part of the game, and I need to make it a bigger part of my game, as a sneak attack because many players just block back my serve.

Q) Finally, if you could disclose one funny locker room story, what would it be?

A) I would love to share but the ATP has these locker rooms closed off for us players to enjoy these stories and experiences and keep them to ourselves. There are many but it’s a little thing that stays between the players. It’s in the unofficial code of ATP players locker room conduct. It’s our little secrets between the players.

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