Milos Raonic, Canada’s highest ranked player ever, might not quite be ready to beat the very best players on tour in the big matches. The Canadian has advanced deep into a few Grand Slam tournaments in his career but as of yet he has not defeated the likes of Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in a major. While 2014 did see Raonic make great strides on tour, 2015 might see some growing pains for the Canadian No. 1 due to his body-type and style of play.
Firstly let’s look back at 2014 as the season was one that saw Raonic slowly inch up the rankings. He started the season just outside of the Top 10, crawled up to the World No. 6 position, and then finished the year ranked eighth. Highlights from 2014 include a run to the quarters of the French Open, a run to the semis at Wimbledon, a title in Washington, and an appearance in the final of the Paris Masters. Ultimately the Canadian qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals where he was not much of a factor, losing both of his respective matches to Andy Murray and Federer.
The Canadian, to his credit, has started the 2015 season off strong as he made the ATP Brisbane final (l. to Federer) and the quarters of the Australian Open. However, despite the fact that his footwork and speed have improved in the last year, Raonic remains a player who is heavily reliant on his serve.
Standing 6’5”, Raonic has service abilities that few can match. Ivo Karlovic comes to mind in comparison although Raonic, more agile and athletic, has achieved more in his young career than the veteran Croat has to date. But like most players that are heavily reliant – perhaps over-reliant – on holding serve, Raonic’s matches are often long and energy consuming. That lack of efficiency often hurts his chances of winning late round matches in tournaments that feature top talent.
As a case in point, let’s look at Raonic’s run to the final of the 2014 Paris Masters. In that event the Canadian received a bye through the round of 64. He then posted the following victories before advancing to the final:
- Jack Sock 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(4)
- Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 7-6(7)
- Roger Federer 7-6(5), 7-5
- Tomas Berdych 6-3, 3-6, 7-5
When you examine these results what you see are a fair number of sets that either went to a tiebreaker or featured 12 service games (ie. 7-5 or 5-7 score). A couple of the matches went the three-set distance. To complete the results, in the final Raonic lost to Djokovic without much of a fight, the final line score being 2-6, 3-6.
In order to understand Raonic and my viewpoint on him tennis fans need to understand my belief that there was probably a cause-and-effect relationship between Raonic’s long and tiresome matches in the rounds before the Paris 2014 final and his comprehensive loss in the final of the same tournament. Much like John Isner, Raonic has little trouble holding his serve and ample trouble breaking his opponent’s. That creates a situation where he faces very long sets that include tiebreakers or nearly include tiebreakers. Even if he wins a match, his chances of winning the entire tournament are not that great due to how long his sets/matches take for him to win.
Raonic is a 6’5” service monster lumbering around on court for hours on end in the early rounds, the quarters, and the semis while more diminutive, efficient, versatile players like Djokovic and Federer get off the court in the early rounds much quicker. Someone like Raonic, when he makes a final, rarely has anything left in the tank and that makes him a huge underdog when he draws someone that does. That could be why he rarely beats any of the top players on tour in late rounds.
So what should tennis fans expect of Raonic in 2015?
Writing as a Canadian, I’m happier to have Raonic in international news compared to someone like Rob Ford. But in my opinion Canadian tennis fans can still expect some bad news from Raonic in the late rounds of tournaments: I do not see him winning many titles in 2015.
He’ll definitely take one down here and there when he enters events that do not include the very best players. However a Grand Slam title for Raonic will require both skill and luck: a fourth round walkover, for example, that gives the lumbering big man plenty of time to rest before the quarters might be his cue to go all-out for the title. But without some luck, I think Raonic will keep losing in the mid-to-late rounds to the more efficient players such as Federer, Andy Murray, and Djokovic.
Those players aren’t 6’5”, they get off the court a lot quicker than Raonic typically does, and they promise to have energy left in the tank in the late rounds as a result. It’s true that players of Raonic’s size have won Grand Slams before but champions like Juan Martin del Potro and Richard Krajicek are the exception, not the norm. They are also one-Slam wonders, although in Delpo’s case there’s time to buck that tag.
Prediction for year-end 2015 ranking: 6th to 8th and no appearances in Grand Slam finals.