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Defeat at Wimbledon may be the making of Milos Raonic

Roger Federer and Milos Raonic shake hands after their semi-final
by Michael Beattie
Wednesday 6 August 2014

Since losing to Roger Federer in his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, Milos Raonic has channelled his anger into a flawless performance in Washington DC. Now, he returns to Canada for a crucial Rogers Cup in the context of his season. Wimbledon.com reports from Toronto… 

Milos Raonic has always shared a special bond with the Rogers Cup. Raised in Ontario, as a kid he would sneak out of training to watch the tournament back in the days when it was hosted at Canada’s former National Tennis Centre.

“It was the only tournament I went to as a spectator on the ATP Tour,” he recalls. “It was just a few blocks away down the street. They used to have under-12 kids playing for 10 minutes before the matches. I did that once. Rogers Cup memories back at that old venue were really big for me.”

There’s every chance Raonic could produce some more moments worthy of the memory bank in the coming days in front of the red and white-clad faithful at the Rexall Centre. Canadian tennis is on the crest of a wave in the wake of Wimbledon, where the combined impact of Raonic, Ladies’ Singles finalist Eugenie Bouchard and Men’s Doubles champion Vasek Pospisil stole the show. The tournament has been dubbed a breakthrough moment for all three.

On a personal level, Raonic does not view it that way. In his eyes the real breakthrough – the result or run that, in both stature and substance, will set him alongside the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – is still to come. And yet, the very fact he has allowed his mind to entertain such notions means that a critical threshold has been crossed. The Canadian now carries himself as a contender, a champion-elect. Cocksure and confident, he is the captain of his fate.

Wimbledon, in both the depth of his charge and the manner of his exit, had a profound effect upon Raonic. So disappointed was he with his straight-sets defeat by Federer that he barely stepped onto a tennis court in the weeks that followed.

“I disconnected myself,” the 23-year-old revealed in Toronto, taking a few days off in New York with friends before moving his post-Wimbledon training block to facilities used by Toronto FC. “I trained away from a tennis atmosphere, in the sort of gym I wouldn’t normally use, to be able to focus on myself, use that anger that I built up across what happened at the end of Wimbledon and motivate myself.

“There were no tennis players around – I was only around soccer players – therefore I was sort of isolated from everything that might be day-to-day tennis news.”

On his return to action, on the hard courts of Washington DC, Raonic was all but unstoppable. He dropped just one service game en route to the Citi Open title, the sixth and most prominent of his career to date, beating compatriot Vasek Pospisil in the first ATP final to feature two Canadians. “He has the best serve in the game right now,” conceded Pospisil, a first-time finalist in the wake of his Gentleman’s doubles victory at The Championships with Jack Sock.

“It has improved,” Raonic says of his primary weapon. “I haven’t changed it much – I have put more focus on it, I would say, just getting out there and hitting more serves. My numbers on my serve have improved, and the way I build my game, the first shot after the serve and so forth. I have a better understanding of what I need to do.”

Prior to the Citi Open Raonic declared that, behind Nadal and Djokovic, any position in the top 10 was up for grabs before the season was out. Having made his top-10 debut a year ago, on Monday he moved to a career-high No.6 in the world, tantalisingly close to a position in the top five. Why stop there?

“Yeah, the sights pretty much go down now. It’s five, four, three, whatever comes after that,” Raonic admitted. “My job is to go out there and win matches, and that’s what I take the most pride in. I have been doing that consistently better and better this year.”

Having reached last year’s final, Raonic has a hefty number of points to defend this year. He will face either Jack Sock or Jurgen Melzer in his first match, while a potential repeat of the Wimbledon semi-final with Federer awaits – not that he will look beyond his next opponent, of course. Whatever happens, he insists he will enjoy playing in front of a home-town crowd.

“I look forward to it, as much as at the same time you try to tune that out, try to treat it like any other match – not to let that overtake you, that atmosphere,” Raonic said.

“Playing at home, playing with that kind of energy, it helps you when things are going well – and helps you even more if things aren’t going well. I look forward to feeding off that. It’s the tournament I would say I look forward to the most as far as atmosphere goes. It’s one of the most important tournaments for me.”

This year, perhaps, more than ever.

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