Rocket Raonic has added another weapon
The 22-year-old Canadian serving ace will bring an impressive return game to UBC in April
This past Saturday in San Jose, Calif., Milos Raonic was matched up against American Sam Querrey, a hard-serving American who would figure to give him trouble even on his favourite surface, the one on which he’s never been beaten.
Querrey’s strength of a very good serve played to the Canadian star’s chief weakness, which is return of serve, and the match figured to be a duel of tiebreakers to determine the winner. But this is not really your old Raonic and if he can cement what happened this past week and show he can do it on other surfaces, you are genuinely looking at a player who will be in the top 10 in the not to distant future.
It was as if a light went on. Suddenly, instead of dumping returns, particularly off the backhand side, short and into the middle of the court, which was his wont, the Thornhill, Ont., 22-year-old was pounding the ball deep, into corners, basically wherever he wanted it. He was in the zone, easily winning 6-4, 6-2.
Never has he returned like this and he knows now the trick is to maintain that focus and level of play throughout the changes of surface the tour brings.
“I think the main thing was that I was focused before every point,” said Raonic on a conference call Tuesday after he was able to carry through his terrific return game through Sunday’s final in a 6-4, 6-3 win over German Tommy Haas.
“When I’m able to do that with 100 per cent intensity it gives me more freedom in that I don’t have to think about it. It’s just a matter of bringing that to every match and I think that’s one of the best parts of my development.”
There’s no question Raonic was significantly better, even than his performances in winning the previous two years at this tournament. He’s the second seed in Memphis this week, and the fact he decided to take a red eye there Sunday night may cause him problems, but there’s no doubt Raonic was on a very highly successful voyage of self-discovery in his return game this past week, something that looked for the longest time like it might never come.
He’ll be back in Vancouver in the first week of April to play Canada’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Italy, and once again it’s going to be the same questions going in as were posed before the tie against Spain.
Raonic should win his two singles matches, but where will the other win come from? Against the Spaniards, Frank Dancevic played the match of his life to pull out that third win on Day 1, but nobody in their right mind would expect that again.
And while the fast court at UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre will again make things difficult for the Italians who prefer slower surfaces, that win isn’t going to be easy to find, even with No. 94-ranked Ottawa-born Jessie Levine eligible to play for Canada this time around.
Raonic is happy to be coming back to Vancouver if for no other reason than to play once again on a surface that approximates the San Jose conditions.
“I feel good about it. I personally played well there, we played well as a team, I won all my matches there so we’re happy to be back. I feel I’m improving, the rest of the players are improving and the dynamic between the players is improving. And on top of that, it’s important to me what playing Davis Cup does for the growth of tennis in Canada.”
The Italians will be led by 19th-ranked Andreas Seppi, who became the first Italian to break into the top 20 since Renzo Furlan in 1996 by virtue of reaching the fourth round in the Australian Open this year, which has to speak well of his chances of competing extremely well on the quicker surface.
Their No. 2 singles player will probably be 44th-ranked Fabio Fognini, who teamed with countryman Simone Bolelli to reach the final of the Australian Open doubles before losing to the Bryan brothers of the U.S.
And along the way, they cuffed aside Canada’s Daniel Nestor in the second round. And lest you think Fognini is not used to pressure, he won the fifth and deciding match over Croatia’s Ivan Dodig in four sets to put his country into this quarter-final tie for the first time in 15 years.
“I know Seppi from watching him,” Raonic was saying when asked to size up the Italians. “Never played him. He’s got good hands, scrappy and likes to take the ball early. I’m friendly with Fabio and practised with him a couple of times and played an exhibition with him. He’s the kind of guy you have to beat, he’s not going to beat himself.”
Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal
Canada (ranked No. 8 in world vs. Italy (No. 9)
At UBC’s Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre
Winner of moves on to semifinals in September against either Serbia or the U.S.
Tickets go on sale March 6
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