In the summer of 2017, during a celebration to honour the 10th anniversary of the National Training Centre, Tennis Canada president Michael Downey spoke in glowing terms about the significance of Milos Raonic’s accomplishments.
That was because at the age of 16, Raonic moved from Thornhill, Ont. to Montreal, Que. to be one of the first participants of the NTC – which has turned out some of Canada’s brightest young tennis stars. And he has since become the most successful Canadian male singles tennis player in history.
“He’s had a lot of success but his biggest impact is that he’s been a pioneer and sort of opened the door for the next generation. Milos has changed the mindset that a Canadian can indeed have success at this level where no one has had this success in singles before,” said Downey about the 2016 Wimbledon finalist.
“He’s a great young man and has a lot of support from his family and has great family values. He’s just a great role model for Canadian tennis.”
With the year’s final Grand Slam now in the books, Canadian tennis fans can surely look ahead with excitement and optimism at what the future holds given Raonic’s recent improved results and the emergence of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov.
Much of the growth and popularity of tennis in Canada can be traced back to the breakthrough of Raonic in Melbourne at the 2011 Australian Open when he powered his way to the fourth round – and what he’s accomplished since then.
Today, with eight ATP Tour titles and a finals appearance at Wimbledon in 2016 to his name, the two-time Canadian Press male athlete of the year has certainly earned the respect of his peers and the recognition as a trailblazer for Canadian tennis.
One of those peers who speaks highly about Raonic’s consistency is 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir – a trailblazer for golf in Canada.
“He’s had a lot of success and is very disciplined and is working hard to improve his craft which I totally respect and you can tell he really wants it and so I’m always pulling for him,” said the 2003 Lou Marsh award winner when asked at the 2017 Canadian Open in Glen Abbey.
However, in his quest to push through and capture his maiden Grand Slam title, the 27-year-old has been hampered by injuries.
Going back to the beginning of 2017, he suffered injuries to a right abductor, his left glut, and then his hamstring. Next, Raonic had issues with his wrist which required surgery prior to the 2017 U.S. Open; and in November he hurt his meniscus and that forced him out of action for six weeks.
The good news is after a tough start to 2018, Raonic’s recent results provides strong indication that he’s turning the corner and is on the comeback trail.
Of course, there was his semi-final showing at Indian Wells, which was followed by a quarter-final result at the Miami Open.
Raonic would enjoy a strong showing at Wimbledon before losing to American John Isner in the quarters. The hard-serving Canadian would make it to the round of 16 at the US Open before bowing out to Isner again.
Besides recovering from his injuries, Raonic credits his new coach, Goran Ivanisevic, for his improved results.
“I didn’t really finish the year last year. I struggled and started quite poorly at the beginning of this year. He worked on really simplifying things and keeping things pretty straightforward,” said Raonic candidly at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Given his injuries and lack of match play, Raonic says Ivanisevic’s experience is a big benefit from the mental side of things.
“(He is) just trying to get me to not sort of question or hesitate when I’m making decisions on court, to go out there, hit the ball with conviction,” Raonic points out.
“And then the more matches I play, the more confidence I get, you’ll start more consistently just making the right decisions more naturally,” he adds.
“We have spent a lot of time having those discussions, and it was one reason why I played well in Indian Wells and Miami. It was another reason why I played well on the grass after missing the later chunk of the clay season.”
The former world No. 3 has never been shy about declaring his aspirations of capturing a Major title.
But with a new crop young tennis stars emerging, some of his doubters suggest that the window of opportunity for the 27-year-old may be quickly slipping by.
Still, when Raonic is fully healthy, he has proven to be a consistent top 10 player and is worthy of consideration as a dark horse in the Grand Slams.
And with players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Kevin Anderson still able to maintain a high level of play into their thirties, it would suggest that there’s plenty time for the hard-serving 27-year-old to make history and chase down that elusive major.
Whether Raonic eventually captures the big one or not, only time will tell. Regardless, the significance of his accomplishments has earned him the recognition as a Canadian tennis trailblazer – which will undoubtedly stand the test of time.
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