By: Andrew Eccles
World No. 8 Milos Raonic has said that concentration and experience were essential to his 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 victory over Sam Groth of Australia.
It all went down on the hard courts of Brisbane, the first of the Australian Open series events leading up to the first Grand Slam of 2015. Raonic might have expected smoother sailing against the World No. 85. Groth, who had defeated fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in the first round, would have been forgiven for feeling pressure playing a quarterfinal in front of his home crowd.
He showed little signs of nerves, however. Armed with an equally impressive serve – owning the record for the fastest hit at a Challenger tournament in 2012 – the Aussie veteran chose to play aggressive tennis that would bring him forward to finish with a volley. Raonic admits this caught him a little off guard.
“He was volleying very well, which was a big improvement for him,” the Canadian said after the match.
“I was focused more so on what I needed to do to pass him rather than focusing on my serve.”
Raonic is known for his hard-hitting serve, and his ability to hold firm and lure opponents into tie break shoot-outs. It is a shot that he continued to work on over the off season to maximize his signature strength. No matter his improvements elsewhere, the serve will always be a Raonic key to success.
“My job is to take care of my serve. Worst case scenario, get myself into a tiebreak – I do pretty well in those situations.”
Although not always the most aesthetically inspiring style of play, there is something to be said for Raonic’s own acknowledgement that his serve must remain his focus. Among the crop of newer stars of the ATP Tour, he may not have the speed of a Grigor Dimitrov, or the shot making ability of a Kei Nishikori.
But scoff at his tennis at your peril.
The serve is absolutely his greatest asset, as he can use the openings it creates to take charge of points and hit dominant ground strokes against an out-stretched opponent.
His results reflect his effectiveness on a tennis court. In 2014, Raonic reached the semi-finals of Rome, Cincinnati and Wimbledon, the finals of Paris and Tokyo, and was champion of the Citi Open in Washington D.C., where he handily beat his countryman, Vasek Pospisil. His results would see him reach a high of World No. 6, and qualify for the ATP Finals in London.
In 2015, this growing wealth of experience could pay off for Raonic, who credited the lessons he learned last season for helping him to a photo finish against Groth.
“I got through with experience and grit, in that match. The last eight months I’ve been having a pretty good record in tiebreaks, so it’s just about incorporating those things, trying to get on top of my opponent.”
Raonic certainly speaks like a player who understands his strengths and weaknesses, one who is increasingly aware of his own ebbs and flows during the course of a match. These are good signs for any up and coming player, and could help him maintain focus as he moves towards the Australian Open, and beyond.
For now, the Canadian need look only to the matches ahead of him, and he’s undoubtedly aware of the challenges that await him in the next rounds. “Everybody that’s in that stage is playing pretty well; they’ve gotten some matches behind them. Now it just comes down to stepping up.”
The same is true of Raonic’s career. In 2014 he got some great matches behind him; it remains to be seen just how far he can step up in the season ahead.