As Milos Raonic sent down another booming first serve, a cry of yes went up from the crowd. The return from Fernando Verdasco nestled in the net and in only his eighth ATP tour-level tournament, the young Canadian had his first title. At only 20 years old, he is one of the most promising prospects in the men’s game.
He has arguably the most devastating serve in tennis at this point in time. Against Fernando Verdasco, he served down 13 aces, adding to the 45 that he had served in his previous three matches. He was hitting his first serve 69 percent of the time, winning 87 percent of those points. There were an additional 20 service winners, as well as numerous points where he had an easy put-away. His fastest serve hit 149mph.
Fernando Verdasco is one of the top players in the world, but his inability to get close to the Raonic serve drove him insane. As he admitted, that was the difference in the match.
However, Raonic was not just about the serve. His forehand was a real threat at times and his composure under pressure was impressive for such a young and inexperienced player. At 6-2 down in the first set tie-break, he remained calm and was able to reel off six straight points to turn the match on its head. At break point down in the second set, he kept his head and hammered down yet another service winner.
It has been a meteoric rise for Milos Raonic. When he played his first ever ATP tour main draw match around 18 months ago as a qualifier in Montreal, he was ranked at number 679. However, victories in qualifying against world No. 79, Teymuraz Gabashvili, and world No. 113, Michael Llodra, made people take notice. But it was his performance against the world No. 10, Fernando Gonzalez, that really stood out and marked him as one to watch. He eventually went down 6-4 in the deciding third set, but finished the match having won more points than his illustrious opponent.
He disappeared back to the challenger and futures tour for the next year before losing his next ATP tour level match against Victor Hanescu in August last year. However, it was in Tokyo in October that we saw further glimpses of his talent. Ranked at 200, he beat higher ranked players, Thiago Alves, Marsel Ilhan and Florent Serra, as he came through qualification to reach the second round, where he would meet world No. 1, Rafael Nadal.
He did not embarrass himself despite going down in straight sets. He earned more break points than the Spaniard and returning better statistics both on serve and receiving. However, it was the Spaniard’s experience on the big points that led to a 6-4, 6-4 victory. After the match, Nadal praised Raonic claiming that he was destined for the top.
However, it was the Australian Open where he shot to the attention of tennis fans worldwide. After coming through qualification, he dispatched Bjorn Phau and 22nd seed, Michael Llodra, in straight sets, before coming up against the world number 10, Mikhail Youzhny. He stunned the tennis world by beating him comfortably in four sets to set up a meeting with seventh seed, David Ferrer.
For a while, it looked as though he might be set to repeat the feat. After taking the first set 6-4, people began to believe. However, Ferrer was able to up his game and reel off three sets to take the victory. However, his performances suggested that success was not far away.
After a disappointing tournament in South Africa, he headed to Silicon Valley to play in the SAP Open. He was only broken once in the entire tournament and did not drop a single set. Whilst his returning game still requires some work, his serve appears almost unbreakable at times and it puts enormous pressure on his opponent.
It also gives him the edge in tie-breaks. He has won nine out of his last 10 tie-breaks. It means that the pressure is on players to break him during the set as his serve almost guarantees him success in the decider. It also suggests that he is mentally strong to hold his nerve during the breakers. If we compare his statistics with fellow big server, Ivo Karlovic, the Croat has won five of eight this year.
How high Milos Raonic can go in the rankings is yet to be seen. However, it would be a huge surprise if he was not to break the top 20 at the very least. He began the year ranked No. 156. Barely seven weeks later, he is expected to be named the world No. 59 when the new rankings are released next week. He has beaten two top 10 players already this year.
Whilst his serve is his major weapon, he has more to his game than that. However, his ground strokes, particularly his backhand, still require work, but if he can improve these, then a top 10 ranking is easily within reach. His next match is tomorrow in Memphis and is an intriguing rematch with Fernando Verdasco.
Whatever happens in that match, his triumph in San Jose marked the arrival of a new star in the tennis world. Remember the name of Milos Raonic.