Any player who has ever been at the top of the tennis world has been in the situation of 21-year-old Milos Raonic. With so much hype surrounding him and his potential, fans of the sport are waiting with baited breath for that one tournament where the Canadian catches fire and makes himself prominent among the best in the game.
Roger Federer broke out with his 2002 victory in Hamburg, which was a Masters Series event at the time. Rafa Nadal won his first of eight consecutive Monte Carlo Masters titles in 2005 to establish himself as a serious threat to the top players, and Novak Djokovic took the Miami throne in 2007 to jump start his career.
Since turning pro in 2008, Raonic has already won three titles (San Jose 2011 and 2012, Chennai 2012), and quickly shot up to the No. 25 spot in the rankings, where he currently sits.
As impressive as these titles have been for him, he has yet to take one that really puts his name on the board as a contender going into Grand Slams. So when will he become a serious threat in those four coveted events? One thing is for sure; he's on the right track.
If his results in Chennai and San Jose weren't enough to prove his worth on the ATP tour in 2012, his play in Barcelona showed the world that he is just about ready to emerge as a star.
By taking down Andy Murray in straight sets to reach the semifinals, he recorded his first career win over a Top Four player. This is a pretty big accomplishment for a 21-year-old, considering the dominance that the Big Four have exhibited in recent seasons.
Although he proceeded to fall to World No. 5 David Ferrer in the semifinals, he didn't go down without a fight; it took the Spaniard two tiebreaks to finish the youngster off.
What can we learn from the big-serving Canadian's recent play? Most importantly, it is now clear that he is a force to be reckoned with on the clay courts, which will host the next two Masters events (Madrid and Rome) and the French Open at the end of May.
In other words, this is pretty optimal timing for a young man who hopes to enter the Top 20 during this season or next.
If Raonic manages to reach a semifinal at either of the Madrid or Rome events (or both), he will instantly become a Dark Horse entering the 2012 Roland Garros campaign. If he wins either title, that will most likely mean he took down a few Big Four players in a short amount of time, and he will be a serious Slam contender for the first time in his short career.
Due to the competition and intensity of these two upcoming Masters events, it is likely that he won't see this kind of success in Madrid or Rome. Even in that case, though, I wouldn't expect it to take any longer than a few seasons for him to become a threat at the Grand Slams.
At this point, Milos Raonic's fate as a future Slam champion is practically inevitable. It will only be a matter of time before he is ready to take his first, and depending on his results in the near future, he may be in the running very soon.
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