© Delray Beach Open

Milos Raonic makes a new friend: Smiley, the 2-year-old alligator that lives at the Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston, Florida, U.S.A.

Raonic Holds Alligator, Lives Dangerously In Delray Beach

Canadian is revamping his training approach in hopes of a healthy 2018

It cannot have been what the two dozen experts Milos Raonic consulted in the off-season recommended he do this year: hold a baby alligator.

But there Raonic was, on Sunday, two days before his first match at the Delray Beach Open, clenching his fists tighter and tighter around Smiley, the five-pound alligator that squirmed and urinated while the Canadian tried to tame him.

“Whoa, buddy,” Raonic said.

“So you can feel the strength of him,” said “Gator Tim” Schwartzman, Raonic's guide at the Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston, Florida, U.S.A.

“Whoa, buddy. Whoa, buddy. Whoa, buddy, buddy, buddy, buddy! Whoaaa, buddy!” Raonic said as he held the 2-year-old alligator, which did not have tape over his mouth and weighs approximately five pounds.

Raonic

Raonic, 6'5” and 216 pounds, inhaled deeply.

“You're good, you're good,” Schwartzman told him.

“I got to hold him pretty hard,” Raonic said.

“Yeah, they're very powerful animals. People don't realise the amount of strength that they're able to produce,” Schwartzman said.

Eventually, Raonic handed back the alligator. The Canadian was uninjured, his hands and powerful right arm fully intact and ready to move on to the park's other attractions. It's something Raonic hopes happens again and again in 2018 – with wild reptiles and on the tennis court.

The 27-year-old spent most of 2017 on the injured list. Name the malady, and Raonic likely had it – or something close to it – last season. An injury to his right leg forced him to miss three tournaments (Acapulco, Indian Wells and Monte-Carlo) and withdraw from two others, including the Delray Beach Open final against Jack Sock. Pain in his left wrist made him skip two other tournaments (Cincinnati and US Open), and he ended his season in Tokyo with a muscle tear to his right calf.

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Raonic, understandably, described the season in three unpleasant words: “Tough, difficult and disappointing.

“First I wasn't able to play most of the season, or if I was playing I was struggling with a lot of different and various injuries,” he told ATPWorldTour.com.

Raonic's ATP Ranking was No. 3 at the end of 2016. He is now No. 32, the ninth seed in Delray Beach after fifth seed Nick Kyrgios withdrew (right elbow).

But the frustrating season sent Raonic on a expedition of sorts. His mission: To finally discover the best way to take care of his 6'5” frame that, when healthy, can produce some of the best tennis in the world.

And he took the task seriously. Raonic talked with about two dozen people – coaches, trainers and physios from tennis but also from other sports, including hockey, basketball and soccer. He also spoke with some general fitness experts.

It's just always trying to figure out something that's going to work. Obviously many things that I was trying weren't giving me the results in terms of health and longevity that I was hoping for, especially tournament after tournament throughout an entire season. So you do the research. You speak with a lot of different people, people have their various opinions on what to do,” Raonic said.

For now, he has adopted a stay-active approach to training. He plans to take fewer days off in which he's doing no physical fitness. For instance, Raonic used to take about 10 days off after the season finished. But now he plans to take no more than three consecutive days off, ever.

So the body never gets out of rhythm,” he said.

That, however, won't necessarily mean more tennis. Instead of more pounding on the court, Raonic might play other sports, including basketball and soccer, more often.

Just really trying to... always keep my body aware and alert,” he said. “You try to give everything a shot for a longer period of time and now I've tried to take on this approach, hopefully [I'll] get the results and be able to be on court much more.”

If it works, it will have been a successful expedition for Raonic, who isn't chasing gold or other riches, but rather, a healthy 11 months on the ATP World Tour.

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