As far as top Canadian men’s tennis prospects go, Milos Raonic is at the top of the list.
Blessed with a rocket of a serve and a powerful baseline game to match, the six-foot-five Raonic turned heads at the Australian Open over the last week before finally bowing out to David Ferrer on Monday.
Raonic created some buzz with his fourth-round appearance at a Grand Slam event — a rarity for a Canadian. He just turned 20 last month, his game is still raw and he’s gaining much-needed experience at the elite level.
But what a debut Down Under.
After making it through the qualifying draw, Raonic downed Bjorn Phau in the first round, surprised No. 22 Michael Llodra in the second round and stunned No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny in the third round.
Television commentators raved about the young Canadian and the reports out of Australia were just as flattering.
“Raonic is the owner of perhaps the most devastating serve in world tennis,” wrote Jay Clark in the Sunday Herald Sun.
Martin Blake of the Sydney Morning Herald also weighed in.
“Nothing can prepare you for the sound that is made by the flush connection of Milos Raonic’s racquet on the ball in his first serve. It is a thunder-clap at 220 km/h and above,” Blake wrote.
While it’s early in his career, tennis observers seem to agree: Raonic looks like a star in the making.
“I don’t think it’s a one-week deal,” said retired Canadian tennis player Frederic Niemeyer, who coached Raonic last year. “He’s going to have a great career.”
Most of the talk in Melbourne centred around Raonic’s booming serve, which handcuffed his opponents over the first three rounds. But Ferrer, a veteran Spaniard, was able to handle it and used consistent ground strokes to grind down the Canadian in four sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., was still quite pleased with his overall performance and learned what he has to work on going forward. He plans to keep working on improvements to his backhand and net game in the immediate future.
Niemeyer is confident that Raonic has the ability to be an elite player on tour.
“People talk about his serve a lot but people don’t give him enough credit for the rest of his game,” Niemeyer said. “He’s a complete player.”
Raonic, who entered the Australian Open at No. 152 in the world rankings, will crack the top 100 when the new list is released. He wants to hit the top 50 by the end of the year.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” Raonic said. “I believe that I have a big enough game to do a lot of damage, and a lot of damage for many years.”
Hatem McDadi, the vice-president of tennis development at Tennis Canada, also feels Raonic has plenty of potential.
“There is a buzz,” McDadi said. “It’s more about seeing some history and potentially seeing a Canadian tennis champion on the world stage. It’s very, very exciting.”