At the Net: Raonic on the rise
Philadelphia, PA – If you're trying to find young tennis stars from Canada (or anywhere else for that matter), look no further than Milos Raonic.
Okay, Raonic (pronounced Rau-nitch) plays under the Canadian flag on the ATP World Tour, although he was born in Montenegro and resides in Monaco and/or Spain, in addition to Thornhill, Ontario.
FYI: Montenegro was once part of the former Yugoslavia.
The 21-year-old Raonic, who moved to Canada with his parents at the tender age of three, is an all-courter who prefers hardcourts and possesses a wicked and accurate serve which has helped him climb back up to No. 32 in the world. He is Canada's second-highest-ranked ATP singles player since the computer rankings began in 1973. (Greg Rusedski peaked at No. 4 in 1997.)
Raonic just titled in San Jose over the weekend, as he became a repeat champion at the SAP Open by straight-setting Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin in the finale at HP Pavilion. It marked his third career title, which have all come over the last 12 months.
He was also a runner-up in Memphis last season.
The big-serving Raonic managed just seven aces in the San Jose final on Sunday, but one of 'em checked in at 150 mph in a service game that was clearly too much for the 58th-ranked Istomin. The Canadian slugger won all 10 of his service games and lost just four points, including one in a first-set tiebreak. In 41 service games in San Jose, Raonic was broken only once.
Raonic joined the likes of Andy Murray (2006-07), Andy Roddick (2004-05), Mark Philippoussis (1999-2000) and boyhood idol Pete Sampras (1996-97) as a back- to-back champ in San Jose.
The 6-foot-5 Raonic joked at the trophy presentation on Sunday that he likes San Jose so much he might consider moving there.
"It's amazing. If the real estate wasn't so expensive here, maybe I'd buy a place," he said.
The force that is Raonic may have even more titles to his credit had he not been sidelined last season after requiring surgery for a hip injury he sustained after slipping on the grass at Wimbledon in June.
"It was the toughest time and it was probably the hardest thing I hope I'll have to go through," he said of his surge-slowing injury. "These kind of moments make you forget that. It's in the past.
"I just hope to keep playing good tennis. Hopefully, the things go my way. Hopefully, people will judge me that way (as having) a breakthrough year. Hopefully, on to better and bigger things."
A healthy Raonic now has his eyes set on a run into the land of the big boys.
Raonic reached a career-high No. 25 in the world in May of last year and appeared to be on his way to the top 20, for sure, before the Wimby mishap. At one point last season, he rose from No. 152 in the world to No. 37 in a month.
"I think last year I was a lot more unaware of what was really going on," Raonic said. "This year, I have a lot higher expectations. I know how to prepare, I know how to deal with things and I feel like I'm a much better tennis player than I was last year."
Early 2012 has been good so far to the formidable Canadian, as evidenced by a brilliant 11-1 record and a pair of championships. He also titled at an Australian Open tuneup in Chennai, India last month. Unfortunately for Raonic at the Aussie Open, Aussie hero Lleyton Hewitt upended him in the third round Down Under.
Did You Know?: Raonic is the only two-time winner so far on the ATP this year.
If there has been any area of concern for Raonic thus far, it has been his performance at the Grand Slams, having suffered first- or second-round losses in three of his first five majors. His best showing has come in Melbourne, where he reached the third round this year after making a trip into the fourth round there a year ago.
In my humble opinion, there are four young guys to really keep your eye on, and, in no particular order, they are Aussie Bernard Tomic, American Ryan Harrison, Bulgarian Grigor "Baby Federer" Dimitrov... and Raonic. And I believe two of these guys can actually make it all the way to the top. And those two are Tomic... and Raonic.
If Raonic can keep the wins coming, he'll be able to afford that home in Silicon Valley... and anywhere else for that matter.