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Ace man Raonic aiming to end Federer's dream

Milos Raonic prepares to serve
by Kate Battersby
Thursday 3 July 2014

First, the basics. It is tricky to acclaim a first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist when you can’t actually pronounce his name. Grigor Dimitrov? No difficulty there. But Milos Raonic? The man himself has heard the question many times, and smiles as he gives the answer: “Mee-losh Row-nitch”. That’s row as in argument, not row as you might with oars. Got it?

Chances are, if you weren’t trying to say the No.8 seed’s name a couple of weeks back, the likelihood is you are now. Four weeks after he made the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time at Roland Garros, the 6ft 5in Canadian has gone one step further here – and, of course, he clinched his semi-final berth with an ace. That one joined the other 38 which helped ward off Nadal-slayer Nick Kyrgios in their quarter-final, contributing to a total of 157 so far at Wimbledon 2014.

In life, we can be sure of this much: death, taxes and Raonic aiming to serve 30-plus aces in his semi-final against Roger Federer.

“Clearly what’s most visible when you see him play is that he’s got a big serve,” says the seven-time champion of the newcomer blocking his path to a ninth Wimbledon final. “It keeps him in the match. Doesn’t matter almost how he plays his return game. I’ve played him where we basically didn’t have any rallies whatsoever. So here I’ll take care of my own serves and see what I can do on the return.”

You get the picture. If observers of the 23-year-old’s game know anything, it is that it hinges (too much, some say) on his serve, although this Wimbledon the mix has been peppered with bullet-like returns. Novak Djokovic has spoken previously of “feeling so helpless” being on the receiving end of the Raonic serve – “even his second serve”. The sleeve Raonic habitually wears on his serving arm is merely precautionary, to protect the mechanism behind his chief weapon from injury. So far this Fortnight, all appears in excellent working order.

Currently his fastest serve has been clocked at 155mph (Ivo Karlovic’s record stands at 156). But three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe ranks Raonic behind Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic, and on a par with John Isner (“when he’s on”) and Karlovic.

“He’s not as tall as Isner and Karlovic but he moves around the court better than those guys,” comments McEnroe. “He’s tough-minded, dedicated and serious. He’s done everything he can in the last two years to come on stronger and better.” Raonic was Newcomer of the Year 2011 after leaping from No.156 to No.31. Last year he was the youngest player in the top 20. Yet McEnroe says the crowd does not always respond to him.

“It’s sometimes hard for fans to get behind him,” reports McEnroe. “They know he has this incredible serve, but how much does this guy want it? They want to see passion, like with Nadal or Djokovic wearing their hearts on their sleeves. It’s part of the work Milos needs to do.”

It is true that Raonic’s unreadable expression can be difficult to dislodge, even in victory.

“I hate to lose more than I like to win,” explains the man himself. “It’s weird – people always say it makes it seem like I don’t enjoy anything.”

He certainly likes travelling. His Twitter bio describes his location as “between a tennis court and a bed”. Born in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Montenegro, he emigrated with his parents, brother and sister to Canada when he was three. He has just bought an airy apartment in Toronto, but is now officially a resident of Monaco. You might expect a young gun with millions in the bank to be driving a Ferrari, but that doesn’t appeal.

“I would always be thinking, ‘Why do I have this sports car?” says Raonic. “I’d enjoy it for the first ride, but then I’d have to find someone to drive it once a week when I’m travelling because you have to drive these cars to keep them up. It’s just so illogical.” Instead, he plans to buy a Smart car. Raonic is not one for indulgent thinking in general.

“I can be hard on myself,” he says. “But I’m getting better every day. And I believe if I do so, I will eventually get to where I want to be. So I have to be patient. My coach [the former world No.3 Ivan Ljubicic] is always telling me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going well, it’s going well’.”

Never better yet than reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon 2014... the key word being yet.

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