Milos Raonic is relishing the chance to do some serious damage at Wimbledon for the first time in his career after a series of disappointing exits. With one of the biggest serves in men’s tennis and an agile net game to back it up, Raonic’s style has always appeared tailor-made for grass to neutral observers but he’s yet to make it past round two at SW19, crashing out to little known Dutchman Igor Sijsling twelve months ago.
This time around, Raonic arrives in Wimbledon on the back of his best ever Grand Slam showing, becoming the first Canadian man in the Open Era to reach the quarters of a major in Paris earlier this month. As a result he’s seeded eighth at the All England Club, getting his campaign underway against Aussie Matthew Ebden on Tuesday.
“At Wimbledon, the atmosphere is the biggest thing,” Raonic said, looking ahead to the tournament. “Not just because its grass but because the rules are a little bit stricter. It sort of builds a certain atmosphere around the grounds. Grass court tennis – it’s difficult for a lot of people, especially when you are younger because you can’t expect to play your best tennis on it, you just have to manage to not play too much worse than you play on the other surfaces and that is pretty much what it comes down to. There is a lot of mental factor that comes in when you are playing on grass and thankfully for my serve it will help me get through a lot.”
After his previous early exits, Raonic fans will be relieved if he makes it through the early rounds and there are a few dangerous floaters lurking in his section. He could face hard hitting American Jack Sock in round two and while Sock has yet to achieve much on grass, his forehand is a formidable weapon on any surface. In round three, he could encounter 2013 surprise quarter-finalist Lukasz Kubot or Dusan Lajovic who made the last sixteen at Roland Garros.
However Raonic says that failing to reach the quarter-finals will be a particularly big disappointment for him this year.
“I feel a little more pressure for myself this year, but not just because of my ranking. I have always wanted to do really well at Wimbledon, it’s probably my most looked forward to tournament in the year - not the one I have played my best at by any means but I watched my idol do so well there - I have seen so many players I have looked up to there. Even though there are the four Grand Slams, Wimbledon has a little bit more prestige than the rest.”
Like many players Raonic opted for fairly minimal grass-court preparation, choosing to fine-tune his game at the Boodles exhibition tournament in the classy surroundings of Stoke Park last week. Since then he’s been putting in plenty of hours on the practise courts of Wimbledon, focusing on his movement.
“The whole goal, especially as the turnaround from clay is so short, is just to keep getting better every day,” he said. “I am going to just hope that each day I have leading to Wimbledon and then every match or practice set that I play, I am getting better and I feel that is the most important thing. Just keep adjusting and figuring out what I need to do. It’s important to understand that in the first round I will not play my best tennis, by any means I don’t expect to but I have got to find a way to win and after that hopefully I can play better and better each round and give myself an opportunity to do so."
Raonic feels that the improvements he’s shown on other surfaces over the past year will really help him at Wimbledon, especially his aggressive play from the back of the court which was extremely evident at Roland Garros. His backhand is now a real weapon while he was striking his forehand with the customary venom through the fortnight in Paris.
“I now have that comfort of playing closer to the baseline, playing more aggressive, and actually being able to get ahead in points,” he said. “Before sometimes what I would do is, yes, I can serve and I can take care of my serve and hold, but then I'd be way too passive. And when you can't really move that well properly, nobody can, especially the first week on the grass until it sort of gets chewed up a little bit. You get half a step behind, half a step behind, and eventually you're out of the point.”
“I think that's one thing specifically for me that I have done a lot this year is I'm playing constantly closer. It's going to allow me not only with my serve, but also in return games to have the possibility to get ahead in points. I think on grass when you get ahead it's a little bit easier to stay ahead just because the movement is so difficult.”