When Milos Raonic first burst on the scene some three years ago, more than a few tennis analysts pointed out that the young Canadian’s game was comprised of a cannon serve, an atomic forehand, and nothing more. His footwork and court coverage were sub-par at best, his net game was courageous but technically off and his return game was virtually non-existent. To play Raonic, was to take care of one’s serve throughout the set, and then sneak in a few mini-breaks in the tiebreak… if you could. The general consensus was that his game would have won him a slam in the eighties or nineties perhaps, but he needed much more than that to truly be reckoned with, in this era.
Well guys, it seems Raonic got the memo. Over time, the Canadian has been particularly vocal about his quest to improve his game and the areas he’s identified as paying particular attention to. Over time, the results have shown in slow but steadily improving performances on the ATP tour. The new and improved Raonic that showed up to this year’s Brisbane tournament was a sight to behold. One word reverberated in my mind, as I watched him play. Impressed. Raonic displayed an improved movement, particularly a running forehand that could keep him in the rally and was slightly reminiscent of Del Potro’s running forehand at the U.S Open in 2009. The improved movement has opened up a ton of attacking options he just didn’t have access to before. Beyond that, it’s dramatically improved his defensive game.
Another great dimension Raonic has added to his game, is his net play. On a side note, is it just me or is a new version of S&V evolving out of the ashes of the old? I might do a piece on that later in the year. However, I digress. Raonic was not playing an out and out serve and volley. But he showed a willingness to attack the short ball and move forward, that I haven’t seen before. What’s more? He did it very well indeed. Forget Federer’s talk of being under the weather. A healthy Federer would still have found this Raonic, a handful. It was interesting to see that Raonic’s game appeared to frustrate the great Swiss, who dropped his racket at one point, looking completely bemused. One could say he was frustrated at his own performance, but I believe his performance or lack thereof had something to do with Raonic’s game on the day.
Oh, and before I forget, the serve was also there. Despite evening out at 6 aces and 6 double faults, Raonic allowed Federer one look at breaking his serve, and he shut that opening down. It was the best I’ve seen Raonic play against Federer. It was the most purposeful I’ve seen him play, period. If his celebratory scream at the end is anything to go by, there’s a lot of fire beneath that prim and proper boyish look he’s got going on.
How far he’ll go in 2016? We’ll let his serv…ahem game, do the talking.