Search This Blog

Game. Set. Match. Headline Animator

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Young Guns: Milos Raonic

The start of any new season brings new faces, new stories, and new champions who burst onto the tennis scene.  This year, the new face, the new story, and the new champion is Milos Raonic.  The tennis world has been picked up and dropped on its head by this 20 year old hot shot from Canada.  At this same point last year, Raonic's ranking was almost 10 times lower than his current ranking of 37.  Raonic has progressed leaps and bounds, not only ranking-wise, but temperament-wise and fitness-wise.  Last year at the Rakuten Japan Open, Rafael Nadal narrowly defeated Raonic in a closely contested match.  Rafael Nadal said Raonic will be a future top ten player.  Nevertheless, over the course of a year, he has become a strong competitor, elegant mover, with a Sampras-esque coolness on the court, poised on the edge of the top 30.  

Raonic possesses all the necessary weapons a champion requires.  He is an outstandingly fit young man, wields a humongous flat forehand, and throws down absolute bombs on his serve.  Mardy Fish said that Raonic: "...has about the strongest legs of anyone I've seen."  He went through the qualifying and played four rounds at the Australian Open without running out of gas.  And if anyone thought that was a fluke, Raonic played 5 straight three setters  in one week from the San Jose Final to the Memphis final, 4 of which ended in a 7-6 or 7-5 set.
Raonic serves during the 2011 Australian Open.
Raonic moves incredibly well for a 6'5" giant.  When forced onto the defensive, he powerfully scrambles with a Murray-like flair to dig out of holes with slices and loopy forehands.  He often dances around backhands moving quickly around a ball to unleash his powerful forehand.  Speaking of which, Raonic possesses one of the biggest, and most technically sound forehands in the game I've seen thus far.  A simple motion, he effortlessly plows through forehand after forehand, setting them up with his crisp footwork.  In yesterday's final against Andy Roddick, Raonic clocked a forehand at 117 mph, a difficult task on the fast indoor courts.  The secret of Raonic's forehand is his separation.  With fast footwork, he allows himself the max amount of time to separate his shoulders, and keep his racket high above the ball.  This yields lots of potential energy for Raonic to flatten out forehands dexterously without expending too much energy on each shot. 

For a base-liner, Raonic has excellent variety in his game, and is willing to try new things during matches.  This is a great sign from the youngster, a sign the tennis world saw from early on with Rafael Nadal en route to his legendary status.  

During his run in Memphis, Raonic often found himself rushing the net on big points closing out pressure situations if his serve didn't accomplish the task first.  Raonic's main weapon, and the one that everyone has heard about by now is the serve.  Raonic has one of the biggest serves in the game, blasting a 150 mph ace by Andy Roddick in the third set yesterday and thereby cementing his place as the second fastest server in the history of tennis behind the American.  However, it is not just his first serve which is so effective, it is his second serve that tells the tale of his success.  Raonic has no problem at all going for 120-130 mph second serves on pressure points to keep his opponents on their toes.  He has great variety on his serve, and can hit all of his spots with pace or spin.  His service games resemble that of his idol Pete Sampras, and the mighty Roger Federer.  Often caught down 0-30 or 0-40 due to highly aggresive play, Raonic comes up with absolute fire-crackers of serves to dig himself out of holes like the champions before him.
Raonic during the trophy presentation in San Jose.
Raonic has many great weapons in his arsenal, but some may ask, don't many of the young guns like Alexandr Dolgopolov and Robin Haase possess big offensive and defensive accouterments as well?  What differentiates Raonic from his rising peers is his impeccable composure, his ability to serve himself out of trouble with ease, and his humility and comfort with fame and success.  What strikes me most about Raonic is his infallible ability to stay inertly positive. 

Almost a mirror image of Sampras, he never mutters words under his breath or screams after the loss of a big point.  He has one face and one face only on during a match, and that face is focus.  Yes, he may lose focus for half a set or so (like all the second sets he lost in Memphis this week) but he always gathers himself for the major points in a match.  He is a very level headed young man, and seldom even shouts for joy after winning a match.  This trait is absolutely crucial for champions to develop, and Raonic has already mastered it.  He has proven it at a Grand Slam level with a win over top ten player Mikhail Youzhny, and again with two consecutive wins over Fernando Verdasco, in back-to-back weeks.

This same composure is what allows Raonic to consistently and competently serve himself out of trouble.  Raonic was consistently able to conjure up aces, or big plays to hold serve at key moments in sets.

The last thing about Raonic that thoroughly impressed me was his humility and comfort with fame and success in the last two months.  When asked about his recent success Raonic merely took it in stride and replied "It's coming nicely.  I'm acknowledging it all and taking as much as I can from it.  But I'm focusing on the next day and doing what I need to do for tomorrow's final.  It's amazing to be in two finals in a row.  After you get the results, everything comes with it, like the rankings.  But the thing I'm most proud of is my level." 

Clearly spoken like a humble and true champion, Raonic has no problem handling the fame and success and is looking to learn from his progress to create more success.  Although Raonic was on a hotstreak until yesterday, he joked with Roddick and congratulated the American on his 30th title during the trophy presentation and showed his acceptance speech prowess as well as tennis deftness yesterday.
Celebrating after a win.
I believe Raonic is going to be the next legend in the modern game.  This young Canadian has everything going for him and recognizes he still has some room for improvement.  Raonic will be the spokesperson of the next generation of tennis, just like Roger Federer is for this generation.  Who knows, maybe current rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov will be Raonic's main rival in the upcoming years.  The start of a new rivalry may begin in the second round of Acapulco this week.  Stay posted for more on the rising champion: Milos Raonic.

No comments:

Post a Comment