With the 2012 ATP season in its twilight, I believe it’s a good time to evaluate this year’s campaign of Canada’s top tennis athlete, Milos Raonic.
2012 marked Milos’ second full year as an ATP staple after he established himself as a consistent qualifier for majors and ATP 1000s with his stellar play in 2011. The “sophomore jinx” is a mainstay in professional sports, but in tennis it is magnified by the ranking system. In sports like hockey or baseball players begin on an even keel every season; though expectations are high, there isn’t statistical pressure on an athlete to defend their home run or goals total from their previous year. In tennis, the ranking system always takes your last full year of results and points into your ranking regardless of the time of year. So a second year in tennis involves defending the points you earned previously. So for Milos there was much to lose in 2012, given his breakthrough in 2011.
So how did he do? Milos started the year off with a bang winning in Chennai (his 2nd career ATP tournament victory), but failed to equal his round of 16, 2011 performance at the Australian Open losing to hometown hero Lleyton Hewitt in the third round. This match was close, however it was a battle Milos was expected to win. Milos used this defeat to push himself hard and defend his 2011 title in San Jose giving him 3 career ATP victories. A big test for Milos then followed in Memphis where he lost to Andy Roddick in the final in 2011. Milos was true to form reaching the final and defending his points but wound up losing in the final to Jurgen Melzer who, though lower ranked than Milos, played an incredible tournament.
The winter/spring hard court season would finish up with two American ATP 1000 tournaments (Indian Wells and Miami). These tournaments were very important not only because of the pile of ranking points available but it was likely that Milos would face one of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic or Murray for the first time in 2012. At Indian Wells, it was the great Roger Federer in the third round that would be the test. Milos served brilliantly to take the first set but fell to Roger in the next two. Still this gave Milos momentum heading into Miami where Andy Murray was a likely opponent. Raonic, however, would not get that opportunity as his body would let him down. He had to withdraw due to knee issues before his scheduled third round match with Murray.
His injury left his fans concerned how it would affect the beginning of his clay court season, especially given that he could not rely on his serve as much as on hard court. A below 100% Milos suffered a disappointing first round loss in Monte Carlo and knew he needed to step up his game heading into the blue clay of Barcelona. A healthier Raonic ripped through the completion including Spaniard Nicholas Almagro. The big triumph however was his victory over Andy Murray. This marked his first victory over a member of the seemingly unstoppable top four. After losing in the semi-finals of Barcelona and another great but unsuccessful match against Roger Federer in Madrid, Raonic found himself entering Roland Garros ranked 22nd overall. A top 20 standing was within his grasp.
Milos would conclude his first French Open with a third round appearance losing to higher ranked Juan Monaco and finishing his clay court season. All in all it was a great season for Raonic on a surface that he was not expected to excel on, especially considering he missed much of 2011’s clay season. The bar was set high going into the serve friendly grass portion of 2012.
Yet another close match with Federer in the quarter-finals at Halle and a historic war with Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the in the second round of the London Olympics would highlight the brief grass season for Raonic. A loss to Sam Querrey in the second round of Wimbledon would serve as a disappointing setback and Milos would drop to number 24 heading into the late summer/fall hard court season.
The Rogers Cup in Toronto was very important for the Thorn Hill, Ontario native as it would give him an opportunity to bounce back and with a good showing crack the top 20. With the help of a walkover Milos would reach the QF and lose a service clinic to John Isner, the important thing about this result was that on home soil, Raonic entered the top 20 for the first time in his career. He would ride that momentum to another QF appearance in Cincinnati and a round of 16 showing at the US Open losing to eventual champion Andy Murray. Not only had Milos made the top 20 but he found himself ranked number 15 heading into the Asian leg of the season.
On Sunday, the driven Canadian concluded the ATP 500 tournament in Tokyo with a hard fought final against Japanese tennis icon Kei Nishikori. Milos would lose in three sets, however it was his previous two matches that sparked the most interest. Both number 9 Janko Tipsarevic and US Open champ Andy Murray fell to Milos signalling the first time he had disposed of two top ten players in the same tournament.
Milos now sits 13th overall with two more ATP 1000 tournaments remaining. With his performance in Tokyo he has also reached $1 million dollars in earnings this year. Though it is virtually impossible for him to catch the number 8 spot and gain a birth in the World Tour Final this year, a top ten is inevitable, if not this year, then in 2013 if he stays healthy. Raonic has exceeded all expectations not only in his ranking but in who he has been able to hang with on all surfaces including the tricky clay. Next year look for him to capture a 1000 title and maybe even put the Maple Leaf on top of a Grand Slam.
Well done, Milos, Canada is proud of you.