Milos Raonic Wins Chennai: Is He Now a Dark Horse for the Australian Open?

AndersCorrespondent IIIJanuary 8, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  Milos Raonic receives the Newcomer of the Year Award Presented by Moet & Chandon during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 21, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

I hadn't seen Milos Raonic prior to last year's Australian Open, where he made it to the fourth round, beating Michael Llodra and Mikhail Youzhny in the process.

In February, he kept the momentum by winning his first title in San Jose and beating players such as Gael Monfils, Fernando Verdasco (twice), Mardy Fish and narrowly losing his second final in two weeks to Andy Roddick.

Within the course of a month, Raonic advanced from 152th to 37th in the ranking and lay the grounds for why he was chosen as ATP Newcomer of the Year in 2011.

Clay was a first time for him and he didn't have much success there and from Wimbledon onwards, his season was riddled with injuries.  

Today, he is back to full power and just won his second ATP title, beating Janko Tipsarevic 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4) in a match that featured no breaks. He improved his record against top 10 players to an astonishing 5-8. 

What initially impressed me with Raonic was not just the gigantic serve and the forehand to back it up. Rather, it was his composure under pressure.

Faced with a seasoned veteran like Fernando Verdasco in his first ATP final, Raonic did what he does best: held his serve and edged out the tiebreaks, much to the dismay of Verdasco, who didn't regard it as real tennis.

Today, he started the third-set tiebreak with an ace and raced to a 5-0 lead.

Raonic is 'only' 6'5" and it thus four and five inches shorter than fellow ace masters, John Isner and Ivo Karlovic. At 6'5", he's more in the category of Robin Söderling (6'4"), Tomas Berdych (6'5") and Juan Martin del Potro (6'6") and this is crucial for his movement and return game. 

While still by no means great, Raonic's return game is already better than Isner's and Karlovic's. And while his backhand, especially the slice version of it, still leaves a lot to be desired, he is very capable of hitting winners from both wings. 

As he just turned 21, was injured for a big part of the 2011 season, moves fairly well, hits a very big forehand and a big, but inconsistent backhand, there's no reason to believe he can't improve this aspect of his game further. 

He will need to if he wants to be more than to become a player around top 10. 

His other assets; the serve, the composure, the forehand and the backhand are enough to get him there. 

A guy who can serve a 117 mph second-serve ace down the T, as he did against Janko Tipsarevic, has got to be dangerous for any opponent. He rarely dips below 130 mph on the first serve, unless of course he chooses to go for a spinning ace. And he often goes above 110 mph on his second without that leading to double faults. 

In the Chennai final, he fired up 35 aces against a more than decent returner like Tipsarevic. He averaged 19 aces per match in the tournament or 11 aces per set. 

When your opponent serves around two aces per service game, not counting all the unreturnables or sitting returns you are forced to hit, there's only so much you can do. This week, he wasn't broken once in 48 service games. 

And that is what makes Milos Raonic interesting at the Australian Open. 

Last year, he had to work his way through the qualifying rounds. This year, he will be seeded around 25th as his ranking will shoot up further with his win in Chennai.

A daunting third-round opponent for any player and the Big Four will be praying to avoid him. Perhaps none more so than Rafael Nadal, who's always been troubled by players who take away his rhythm and refuse to rally. 

If John Isner can take Rafa to five sets at Roland Garros, what can Raonic do at the Australian Open? We're about to find out. 

While I would be quite surprised if Raonic makes it beyond the quarters, I can certainly see him making another fourth round or even the quarters. And a big upset or scare on the way. 

An injury-free Raonic should be able to have a couple of deep runs at the slams this year and make his way into or around the top 10. 

If that guy improves his return game, the rest of the tour better watch out. Because service-wise, he's almost unbreakable.