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Raonic On His Own Terms

Milos Raonic

Raonic© AFP/Getty ImagesMilos Raonic is within touching distance of qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the first time.

After what he described as a “frustrating and disappointing” start to the season, Milos Raonic has turned his year around with the help of new coach Ivan Ljubicic. He now finds himself within touching distance of a place at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals going into the last chance saloon at the BNP Paribas Masters next week.

It has been somewhat of a transition season for the Canadian, who, two years ago, travelled to the season finale in London to collect the ATP World Tour Newcomer of the Year award. After parting ways with long-time coach Galo Blanco in May, Raonic began working with former World No. 3 Ljubicic at the start of June and it heralded a new phase in the Toronto native’s development.

“I felt like when I made the decision, I was convinced it was the right one,” Raonic told ATPWorldTour.com. “The approach has always been, when you’re going to do something, believe in it and go 100 per cent. That’s really what it came down to. It was just a little bit tough because it was in the middle of the season, just before two Grand Slams.

“I think in general, everything’s turned out well. I can’t complain. I feel like I’m playing much better and like I’m playing some of my best tennis now. I feel like I’m getting better every day, so I’m very happy with that.”

The Strategy

The strategy under Ljubicic is simple: win or lose the match, but do it on your own terms. “I’ve focused a lot on what I need to do to compete against the top guys,” explained Raonic. “But not just when I’m playing them, when I’m playing all my other matches too. It’s about being more aggressive, trying to dictate more and more, trying to have the match in my hands as much as I can and have it depend on me.”

As well as working with Ljubicic, Raonic also employed a new fitness trainer, Dalibor Sirola, who travels the tour with the 22 year old. Among the changes implemented are longer warm-ups, more focus on mobilisation of the body and attention to functional stability and movement. 

The results came quickly. Raonic became the first Canadian to crack the Top 10 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after reaching the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, along the way defeating Juan Martin del Potro before ultimately falling to Rafael Nadal. He was the first homegrown finalist at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament since Robert Bedard in 1958.

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He narrowly missed out on reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open, falling to Richard Gasquet 7-5 in the fifth set in the fourth round, but excelled in the Asian swing, winning his second title of the season at the Thailand Open in Bangkok (d. Berdych) and reaching the final a week later at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo (l. to del Potro). 

Raonic“I think I’ve learned how to approach those difficult moments,” Raonic said. “For about three or four months there I was really frustrated with myself with how I was playing. I didn’t feel like I was playing my best tennis when I really wanted to be. There were no injuries or complications. I was healthy, but just not playing well. 

“It taught me to just keep plugging away. You don’t know when it’s going to come together, but it will come together. If you lose sight of what you need to be doing, then it just gets more and more dangerous.”

The results have seen him firmly established as the youngest player in the Top 15 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, in a generation where the experience and consistency of the Top 10 sets them apart. Breaking up that group is a challenge that Raonic is keen to rise to and attack. 

“Experience is what I’m going to pick up as I go, I can’t really fake that or make it appear in my game,” said Raonic. “I think that’s really about learning from every opportunity you have. 

“But the rest is really about going out there and trying to control and dictate and try to play on my terms as much as possible and try and take my game to them. Rather than me adjusting to them. I think if I can do that and do it well and consistently, I’ll be able to create more opportunities and the question is just about converting them."

The Final Showdown

With just one week left in the Emirates ATP Race To London, Raonic will need to at least reach the final at the BNP Paribas Masters if he is to have the chance to clinch one of the coveted eight berths at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The right-hander is currently 11th in the standings and goes in 350 points behind Richard Gasquet, who occupies the last qualifying spot, and must rely on other results as well as his own performance.

“It would definitely be a great thing [to qualify],” said Raonic. “It’s really a great opportunity that I’ve put myself in, especially considering how frustrated and disappointed I was with parts of the beginning of the year. To really rally like I have in the second half and play the kind of tennis I’ve been playing, I’m very happy with. 

“It was a goal I set out for myself at the start of the year, but at tough parts of the year it wasn’t even really something I was considering at any point. To give myself the possibility, is definitely a positive thing. 

Raonic“I was only [at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals] for one night [in 2011], but I thought it was a great spectacle. The way it was organised, the way it was scheduled with two [singles] matches a day. You can build up momentum because they always start on time. It feels like a prime time boxing card that you can set in advance because you know who’s going to face off against who and you have the best guys facing off. So it’s pretty special.”

The Next Step

Raonic explained his goals for next season will depend on how he finishes this season, but one area he is looking to improve is at the major championships. The right-hander is yet to advance past the fourth round at a Grand Slam, but has the belief he can soon become a title contender on the biggest stage.

“The most important thing about the Grand Slams is developing a great routine,” said Raonic. “You’re not going to feel great for two weeks, that’s for sure. You sort of have to find your way through those matches, through those tough moments, mentally and physically. I think that’s definitely the most difficult part. 

“Definitely reaching a Grand Slam quarter-final is one [goal], but I wouldn’t want to end there. It’s about going further and further. I don’t want to just squeeze through to the quarters; I want to put myself in the position to compete to win the event. I’m really motivated and eager, when I have the time to do the work, to do the work and I really look forward to those challenges next year.”

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©Erika Tanaka

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