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Exclusive – Raonic about his Grand Slam quest: “I think I’ve done everything I’ve can”
Canada’s Milos Raonic showed he is back to his best when he reached the final of the Cincinnati Masters last weekend. As he prepares to begin his US Open campaign on Tuesday, the 29-year-old tells Tennis Majors why he feels he’s better prepared than ever to make a run at a first Grand Slam title.
Former world No 3 Milos Raonic has been out of the limelight for a while, mostly due to a succession of injuries which have stopped him every time he looked like he was ready to go again. But after reaching the final of the Western and Southern Open, where he was denied by Novak Djokovic and four years on from his lone Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon, the 29-year-old tells Tennis Majors that he’s better positioned than ever to win that elusive first Major.
Tennis Majors: How do you feel mentally and physically after reaching the “Cincinnati” final?
Milos Raonic: I feel good. It’s a little bit weird, playing two big events… You can normally cut off a tournament by getting on a plane, go somewhere else or at least you make some kind of commute. Yesterday (Sunday) was really spent on resetting myself, because yes, there’s a lot of adrenaline coming through and a lot of emotional strings you want to do, and also it’s a little bit magnified because you haven’t done these things for so long. The important thing was to try to find as much as an emotionally clean slate to be able to start up. I know that’s going to be something that’s definitely going to need some attention in my first round, to give myself the best chance. It’s just about trying to escape tennis for as many hours as I can.
TM: You seem to be playing with more freedom now?
MR: Depends which kind of freedom you’re talking about, because the pressures of not playing for a while and all that stuff, I don’t think that came naturally. But for me a lot did come from the fact that I had the freedom in a healthy way to train for a longer period of time. Most of the other times I’ve been hurt and when you train, you’re trying to calculate, am I ready yet or not. Then you go to a tournament because you don’t want to lose too much time. Now, I would have said I was probably ready and feeling good to play tournaments. It allowed me to focus on the right things with the right intention for a bit longer, without that sort of deadline always running up behind you.
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Yesterday was a very gutsy win. But today tennis stands as one and doesn’t play so that time can be taken to provoke real change. Is it enough? No. But bit by bit is the only chance we have for change. There is no perfect moment so we have to act as soon as we can.
TM: Are you saying you weren’t able to play the way you wanted to because your body didn’t let you?
MR: Most of the time that’s how it’s been for me the last few years, I haven’t had that sort of momentum. I’m not the kind of guy that needs a lot of matches to create momentum; I just need a block of the right intention and the right preparation. This time I had that for a longer period of time. From when I started training, from when it was announced as a global pandemic, I didn’t skip a single practice, there was not a single day where a physical thing kept me away from doing anything. I had that complete freedom. The only question I was constantly asking was: what do we need to do today? That meant a lot to me, but it also allowed me, once I got the rust out, then I was able to freely look at – what can we do to take my game a step forward? It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to have that conversation honestly.
There’s been a lot of times I’ve wanted to have it and maybe that conversation was rushed. But this time I could actually have that conversation honestly and openly and try to act on it. That’s what I did coming into here. I’m playing more aggressive but I think it’s because I’ve improved physically. I’m moving better so that then I’m there quicker and in better position on the first ball. It’s allowing me to take advantage of that. So people are saying I’m hitting forehands and backhands better. Maybe, but there’s a lot of little steps that come to it before you can actually get to that point and I’ve actually had the attention span and freedom to pay attention to that.
TM: You have had a lot of coaches in your career. Did you need all of them to get to where you are now?
MR: I think for my personality it’s always been a good thing. I don’t know if you can say where would I be without X person or another, that’s hard to really pinpoint. But I do know whenever I brought someone on, it was always with the intention of: “Am I doing everything I can to be a better tennis player?” That’s why I haven’t shied away from bringing people on, I haven’t been one to worry necessarily about how’s the chemistry going to be, it’s always been a very clear idea of can this person help me become a better tennis player.
I think a lot of people have added a lot of things, especially over the last period of time, and somebody that’s been with me now a little more consistently. But that also gives me a little more free rein to do my own thing, I’ve been able to shuffle through all those things and be a little more selective. I think the people that are around me right now are very close to me, dear to me, care a lot and also are people that we can have those open conversations with. Nobody’s sort of set in stone in any coaching technique commitment, coaching idea or philosophy that they have to stick to. It’s been a bit more open.
TM: Would you say you are now in a better position than ever to win a Slam?
MR: Yes, I think I’ve done everything I’ve can. It would be hard for me to go into something without being able to say those words to myself. Now with the ability to look in hindsight, I can say that more comfortably now than in other times.
TM: What do you think of your US Open draw?
MR: I know who I play in the first round and what half I’m in. Cincinnati was a lot of positives for me. You could think you just keep rolling from there, but no, it’s a new thing. I have to find a way to be as eager, as positive, as pumped up, as I was for the first point against (Sam) Querrey, to the first point against (Leonardo) Mayer. I think from there I can build on and sort of see where my tennis can take me. I think I’ve been doing a lot of good things, I think I can play a lot better than I did the last week and I hope those pieces fall into place and I can perform.