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.