Milos Raonic is playing out of his mind right now. For a few of you who haven’t noticed, Milos is now 9 – 0 this season, has a title to his name already, and is in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. He’s neck and neck with Novak. Would you have guessed this at the start of the season?
To be honest, I’d been watching Milos from the start of Brisbane and I couldn’t help but be impressed by what I saw. When he won the tournament by defeating a champion like Federer in the finals, I just had to do an article on him. You can check it out here. Nearly two weeks later, and I’m still impressed. Impressed enough to write another article about him.
As I watched a bit of the replay and the major highlights of the match against Monfils – a player as dangerous and unpredictable as they come – I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Here is man who’s come into his own and figured out his grand slam winning game.” Now it might be too early to say something as profound as that, but if you’ve watched Milos this year… if you’ve watched Milos in this tournament, you might just understand what I mean. He’s literally evolved right before our eyes and while it might not happen at the AO, below are a few reasons why I believe Milos can go all the way at this tournament or any other from here on out.
Yes it has always been there, and yes it has always been a weapon but it’s looked downright lethal so far in this season’s first grand slam. It’s not just about the pace of shot, for I think Raonic’s serve has gotten heavier, more accurate and more varied. It has become almost Samprasian, if not in it’s delivery or look, but in the devastating effect it has on his opponent’s game. It’s been a while since I have since the absolute look of worry on a tennis player’s face, knowing that if they get broken, they are done. Last time I really saw and felt that from a match was in 2002. Fourteen years have gone by and it is back.
We aren’t just talking lateral movement along the baseline. While Milos may never reach big four levels with his ability to track down a ball, he has learned to put his gigantic strides to good use, taking smooth languid movements to the ball and using his long reach, intelligently. So yes, the lateral movement is there, what I’m most impressed about, is the forecourt movement. I talked about his willingness to attack the short ball in Brisbane. It has carried over to the Australian Open and dare I say has gotten better. It’s not reckless aggression. It is very deliberate, and very much controlled. I feel that’s what’s made it very potent indeed. I’ve seen it put back breaking pressure on his opponents cos they are staying on the defensive, constantly. So far, they’ve all broken.
A lot of things have happened this year that I never thought would happen. I never thought I’d gasp at a Raonic volley, but I have… multiple times. He no longer looks clumsy up there. In fact, he looks downright comfortable. Dare I say he enjoys it, and it shows. He’s shown the full range of volleys – pick ups, drop volleys, deep drives, carved angular cuts, lunges, you name it. Again, I get the Samprasian feel of constant pressure. Milos’s attack game has gone up more than a few levels and these days when he’s at net, he cuts a very imposing and capable image. Where Karlovic the has size at net, Raonic the has size and the ability at net. You have to do more than put it out of his reach, you’ve really gotta hit a good pass, time and time again.
Gone are the days when you idled along just holding your serve, until you stepped it up in a tie-break against Raonic. These days, you might not get to one. Why? Milos’s return. It’s gotten so much better, it’s insane. It’s not like Milos never had the ability to take huge cuts at the ball. He’s always had that. What he hasn’t always had is the ability to do it consistently and to vary his return in order to achieve different results. Not anymore. Milos picks up the serve so quickly these days, it’s almost Federer like and his laser like cross court stunners are nothing short of Djokovelian. However, Milos does not return to put the ball back in play. His returns are an opportunity to hit a winner or go on the attack, however varied or direct that attack may eventually be.
Now we come to the intangible of all intangibles. Confidence. How to describe this one, I don’t know. For me, the avid club and occasional competitive player, it is that feeling in the arm, or the sleeve in Milos’s case, that let’s you know your shots are gonna go exactly where, and exactly how fast, you want them to go. It’s not quite being in the zone as it is just not thinking or doubting too much in the swing. The swing is relaxed, natural, and effective. I feel like Milos is in that space. The next level is being in the zone. That’s where Djokovic has been for the better part of a year. But confidence and being in the zone are very intangible things. Very slippery as well. How long he can hold on to it is anyone’s guess.
For now though, Milos Raonic and his new found, more complete game, are a viable threat at this Australian Open and any other major this year, especially if he keeps playing like this. Fear the sleeve my friends. Fear the sleeve.