Milos Raonic: “It’s going to be an emotional thing to go through”
Milos Raonic is coming back to play after two years away from the game. The Canadian hasn’t decided how long he’ll try to be back, but he is hoping to make the most of this summer.
The last time Milos Raonic played a match on Tour was in Atlanta in July, he was ranked 22nd in the world and the year was 2021. He was back from an injury break that started back in March of that year.
The last time Raonic played at Wimbledon, he was ranked 17th in the world, reached the second week and the year was 2019. Now, at 32 years of age and ranked all the way down at No. 840, it’s been a long time since the Canadian has been able to play on tour and as he explained on Sunday, he had no real idea of how it’s going to go but he really wants to enjoy it.
“It’s exciting, it’s fun”, he said. “There are a lot of ups and downs through the whole thing across two years of being hurt and stopping completely, stepping away from tennis. You go through a lot of ups and downs in terms of trying to get motivated again to want to come back. I really took distance from it, I don’t think I watched a point of tennis really until about Miami or Indian Wells this year. And then I was starting to train and get ready, was in the gym every morning so then you start watching the screen above your shoulder a bit more, getting interested in scores, judging yourself on where you think you are.”
“You go through a lot of ups and downs in terms of trying to get motivated again to want to come back”
The road to Wimbledon 2023 was not an easy one for Raonic who totally cut himself from tennis for the most part of those two years as he was trying to get over that Achilles injury.
“Some days, you can feel good about yourself but some days you doubt and question yourself about what level you can even play. You try to connect everything to how things were two, three, four, or five years ago but you also don’t have a realistic memory because it feels so far away. You just try to take it day by day but it’s hard and before you know it, a lot of time passes by and you hope you’ve done the right work, been able to train well enough to come here, and hopefully be able to play good tennis.”
Raonic had just one tournament to prepare for Wimbledon: he won one match in ‘s-Hertogenbosch against Miomir Kecmanovic (6-3, 6-4) but then lost against Jordan Thompson (7-6(4), 6-1). Unfortunately, he had to give up on his hopes to see the Queen’s tournament again, due to a right shoulder injury.
He wants to believe it was more an issue of rust than anything else. “I haven’t played tennis for two years… Humanity struck!”, he said. “I played the first match and everything was kind of feeling okay, and I think also a lot of it was tension and nerves. Two years and not hitting a single ball for the first two months of the first year so these kinds of things take a bit of a toll. No matter how much you prepare in practice, there are things you can’t really replicate, like the tension of a match, how badly you want to win, and stuff.”
A finalist at Wimbledon in 2016, he is coming back onto his favourite surface. It’s easy to feel like he’s trying to play his favourite swing one last time. But he hasn’t decided yet if it was a farewell tour or a true comeback. “Right now, I’m coming back to play here in Wimbledon one more time, coming back to play Toronto, especially one more time, coming back for the US Open as well, and then I have to have a conversation with myself.”
As too often the case for Raonic, it’s a question of how much his body can take. And so how much his mind can take in the process of getting injured and having to come back again and again. At 32 years old, the Canadian has also seen that he was able to enjoy his life without tennis so the question remains: is the pain worth it?
I hadn’t played with another top ATP player for two years, like seven days before playing sets for the first time in two years.Milos Raonic
“It’s mostly in the past”, he says about the number of injuries that took him off the game, most recently this Achilles issue. “It’s just that things come up at certain times and it’s unpredictable so you just manage it as well as you can. Now, when it comes up, it’s not really at the point where it was when I stopped: then, I had days where I was just trying to get out of bed and it was just painful to walk. Achilles are tough because anytime you stand up, there’s always tension on it, it’s tough to avoid. I know I’m not gonna be in a cast again for a while like I was by the end of 2021, but things come up and you always wonder if it’s still the injury or if it’s getting back into the rhythm of things, of keeping up and playing.
“Also, I hadn’t played with another top ATP player for two years, like seven days before playing sets for the first time in two years. You’re also trying to speed up and catch up. I had no intention to do any of my preparation on clay but all the players were on clay so it wasn’t easy to find people. Then you wonder what the level is going to be and if you are going to be able to keep up. You just deal with it day by day.”
I’m coming back to play here one more time, Toronto one more time, the US Open as well, and then I have to have a conversation with myself.Raonic on his future in tennis
Milos Raonic has never been the type of person to let feelings speak for him. He’s always been one of the hardest-working players out there and has always tried to analyse everything that was coming his way to improve the small margins. Very rarely would you see him admitting any kind of emotional struggle.
“It’s a good thing that Wimbledon is quite different than it was in 2019, that you enter from a different gate where the indoor courts are so you don’t have all those memories”, he answered when asked if it had been a bit emotional to walk around here after all he went through. “You get caught up in those other things and before you know it you’re rushing to get to practice and you get caught up in the whole cycle of it. I don’t think you get that moment of reflection or admiration. I came here on Saturday and was just thinking that I had ten days to get ready to play so it took over the romanticism of it all.”
But people shouldn’t be fooled: there’s a big heart underneath the cool exterior. So when he lets his guard down a bit, when he has spent a bit more time throwing jokes around, you get an idea of his true stress level before he starts at Wimbledon. “It’s going to be an emotional thing to go through here but it’s impossible to get an idea of how much. I could win my first match here, lose my first match here, I could walk away in both cases being happy or upset. Measuring success last time I was here and now is quite different from how I would measure things now.”
The question still lingers – why did he come back? For a long time, it looked like he was really done with the game, and also there’s no way his body is better able to handle the rigours of tour life now than when it was through his 20s, when he was already struggling. What is then pushing him back? The touching thing is that Milos Raonic himself is not really sure of the answer. “I don’t know! I don’t think it’s any specific thing”, he starts after a long pause.
“It’s just something you really miss in a lot of moments, that you kind of wish could maybe be different. If somebody told me tomorrow that I’m in too much pain and won’t be able to play Wimbledon ever again, I don’t think I’d be devastated over it. I had two years to really get used to that being my life and I’m fortunate enough that, away from tennis, I’ve always had enough other interests that I can keep myself busy and motivated in other ways. For me, it’s more about wanting things to be a little bit different and then also believing I can play at a certain level. I don’t think I would have any interest to come to just being around and walk through the grounds of Wimbledon one more time. If I wanted to do that, I could have done it as a spectator and be perfectly happy.”
“You get really upset and frustrated, and you ask yourself why am I doing this?”
Raonic has always been the ultimate competitor and the ultimate perfectionist and he spent nearly all his life putting those two traits to work through tennis. Undoubtedly, it’s not easy to give up on that or to try to evolve into something else.
And in the end, like many champions before him and many after him, it also has to be about finishing on his terms. Yet, the former No.3 in the world wasn’t sure he would be able to have this last chapter. “At some point, even through training, when I need time off to feel better, it took a week or ten days so it’s hard because you lose a lot of time and momentum. It defeats the point of training. There were a lot of moments like that and so you get really upset and frustrated, and you ask yourself why am I doing this? But the time passes, you get on the court again, you put your head down: you can have a very short memory sometimes and you just keep working.”
Raonic has maybe stepped away from the game for two years but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion about tennis and tour life. And he couldn’t resist having a look at that Djokovic – Alcaraz semi-final in Paris. He’s always been rather close to Djokovic and so knows how the Serb’s brain works: he never doubted the Parisian result.
Raonic : “It’s kind of Novak’s Tour”
“That Roland-Garros semi-final against Alcaraz was a lot more meaningful. I didn’t see a way Novak would lose that match. The way it ended was unfortunate, but Novak having a chance there after losing his last match against him, against the guy he’s been battling back and forth for No.1, he wasn’t going to let that story be written in any other way. He’s too competitive and also I think he really wanted to have that number 23 on clay at Rafa’s event historically. There were enough of those things that anybody as great as Novak you can say you don’t look at those narratives but I think you use those narratives to motivate you.”
He can’t help smiling when asked about how things might have changed since he was last on tour. “When I started, the same three guys were dominating the game, when I left it: the same. And so now it hasn’t really changed that much. Roger is not around but until recently it didn’t change. It’s been fun to watch other people there but for most of it and, in a completely unbiased sense, it’s kind of Novak’s tour.” Now, he is coming back to see if he can challenge one last time. Raonic, as often the case, is going to try to make his body bend to his desire of playing. A tough ask, but one that is about to give him the last chapter his career deserves.