Milos Raonic Shows Limits on Clay

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IApril 26, 2011

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 25:  Milos Raonic of Canada wipes sweat off of his forehead against Somdev Devvarman of India during the Sony Ericsson Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 25, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It looked like Milos Raonic would win every tournament on the planet with the way he started the season. The World No. 27 played with such freedom in his mind that anything seemed possible.

It is the same feeling Novak Djokovic played while winning 24 straight matches and four tournaments including The Australian Open, Dubai Indian Wells and Miami.
Of course, the 20-year-old is not yet at the level where the world No. 2 is at the moment.

All dream periods have to come to an end at a certain point.

Raonic has been facing his first hurdles over the past few weeks. It takes one match and a switch of surface to turn the tables around.

The Canadian lost in the Indian Wells Masters second round to another young talent in 20-year-old American Ryan Harrison—but nevertheless it was a large and important step for him to take.

The Montenegran has also shown rooms of improvement on the red clay.

Raonic remains the big revelation of the early part of the season with 12 wins and only four losses until the start of the clay court season.

Coming through the qualifying rounds, he went on to reach the fourth round in the first major of the season, then won in San Jose and reached the final in Memphis. He also made a big jump in the ATP standings: ranked 156th in January, he's now ranked No. 27 and some experts expect him to reach a top-10 spot by the end of the season.

The story of this rising 20-year-old is very interesting since he did not have promising hopes when he played at the junior level.

The Canadian improved a lot when he reached the Australian Open last 16 round, his best performance at a major. 

Moreover, very few tennis pundits talked about him before this year because sponsors had their eyes on Ryan Harrison.

Americans desperately need someone to lift the hopes of the USA when Andy Roddick will quit.

Other marquee names such as Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic also caught the eye of several experts.

Raonic relies on highly efficient first and second serves that has seen him lead the aces ranking.

Also, the Serbian born has mastered the first-serve sequence: forehand down the line and move to the net.

Harrison is also very aggressive on his forehand, not hesitating to come to the net where he is also very efficient.

Nevertheless, the 20-year-old has to improve on his footwork, which a key element to dominate the clay.

Ranonic lost to the second-best clay court player of the season, David Ferrer, in the third round of Monte Carlo, then to Ivan Dodig of Croatia in the third round of Barcelona because he could not dominate the rallies as well as if he played on a hard court.

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In a way it is not surprising to see the Canadian struggle on clay only because he does not have much experience on this surface. It is therefore very encouraging to see him win even two or three matches on the regular ATP tour clay court season, something he could not even think of at the beginning of the season.

I also like the fact that he has scheduled to play every week until the start of the second major of the season in Paris. It means he is dedicated to understand the surface more and be a threat to every opponent he will face in the near future.

Matches are part of a player's training—and can be considered the best session possible.

While competing, the player is totally committed, physically and mentally. He puts in his shots and footwork with all the necessary intensity. He is focused on winning and so searches for solutions to increase his efficiency. He discovers new skills. He'll naturally find the areas of the game he's most comfortable in. It is during matches that a player can reach a new level.

In January, Milos already owned that big serve, those same physical abilities and baseline shots. He was already familiar with the game style he liked the best. But he found a way to win one match and then everything came together: he seemed stronger, more confident and therefore tougher to beat.

He lost this week against a younger player than him, Harrison being born in 1992. For the first time in a while he was in the role of favourite against a player with nothing to lose. Harrison, struggling for several months, has raised his own game match after match; his talent and potential are also shining through now.

It is unlikely to see Raonic shine at the French Open since he does not yet have what it takes to grind for five sets and seven consecutive matches but he could be a major threat in the early rounds for anyone who will cross his way.

Elsewhere, the physical strengths and baseline knowledge he will gain from the clay court season will boost him going to Wimbledon.

The grass of the All England club will be the first big arena where Milos Raonic will have the opportunity to make headlines the way Roger Federer did when he beat a certain Pete Sampras in the last 16 round back in 2001.

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