Two years ago in Toronto, something strange happened. It’s not often that the top men play doubles, and rarely, if ever, do they actually play together. Regardless, they could be taken seriously. Rafa Nadal had won top doubles titles with his Spanish partner Marc Lopez, and while hardly being a doubles specialist, Novak Djokovic’s fantastic returning and flexibility were to combine to make quite the team.
There’s something about Canadians on home soil, it has to be said.
The team of virtual unknowns, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil would entertain the crowd under the lights of the Rexall Centre and take them out in a super tiebreak.
When recalling the win, Raonic chuckled. “After that when I did start doing well. I think people have a sense of intimidation which helps in sports.”
Since then he has risen into the top 30 of the world, including several ATP 250 titles to his name. With a return to Wimbledon after an injury last year, the big serving Canadian didn’t quite find the result he would have liked, falling to another tall, big server in American Sam Querrey.
“I was frustrated I didn’t play my best. [But] I think my game is in a very good position. Its not only a question of getting a good draw anymore. I feel I can put myself in a position to win.”
With the injury last year, Raonic missed the entire summer hard court swing, including the US Open. With a major gap in points to take advantage of this year, Raonic will head to Newport and then the much anticipated Olympics, held on the grass courts of Wimbledon, five or six days before the opening ceremonies.
I think its very different. A lot of things can change in 3 weeks. … They play well one day. They play poorly the next. I’ve taken a lot of big steps these first 6 months. Not only with my tennis but my ability to handle pressure and those sorts of things.
Raonic couldn’t hide his excitement for the Olympic opportunity. “I always would have enjoyed that opportunity as a kid. We get very stuck on the grand slams as a kid. I think the whole excitement of the Olympics is that … it’s great athletes in every sport. It’s really an amazing time. To be surrounded by great athletes in different sports and your own sport is truly an amazing thing.”
However, for Raonic, and all of Canada, the highlight of the season will be the Rogers Cup held in Toronto. Raonic is a Toronto native and will have a chance to make a massive impact in front of the home crowds. For Milos, the people and facilities are incredibly familiar.
“Not only going to watch the tournament but training there. When I am home I do spend a lot of time training there. I do have a lot of familiarity. It’s a very easy tournament for me, per se. I know where I want to eat and all of these things. The whole sense of being here in Toronto and being home, there’s an ease to it and an excitement to do well. To hope for my best tennis and my best level during that week. Its a big opportunity that I really look forward to. If here is really where I can make the difference… for tennis and the public eye, just outside of one of the grand slams.”
Promoting the sport with Tennis Canada has been on the agenda, and with a super star in the making, people are taking notice. “There’s a lot more people excited for the sport. I don’t know how much people are watching tennis but I know that I watched the Euro Cup on Sunday downtown and after went to see how the celebrations were like on College and Bathurst. A lot of people were recognizing me there. A lot of people that weren’t tennis bred and grown up and tennis. A lot of regular people. When you do get these people involved in it, they get their kids in the sport. Its not only that you see it in Canada, but you see it in the business stand point. A lot of companies making big commitments to televise outside of the Rogers Cup and the grand slams. ”
However, Raonic hasn’t let the pressure get to him. “There’s more responsibility off the court. When I step on the court I don’t think so. This sport I play, this sport I enjoy and the desire to win is for myself. I don’t want anything more than to succeed… what I want is since I was a little kid, not because people want me to win.”
Regardless, the entire country will be cheering on Milos on his home courts in Toronto, starting on August 6th.