Milos and Jerzy
Tennis is a funny sport. At Wimbledon, Poland’s Jerzy Janowwicz was the toast of the sport. He bludgeoned his way to the final four and had a few chances versus eventual champion Andy Murray. I even recall a tweet from a major tennis writer stating something along the lines that Janowicz was what people hoped Milos Raonic would be. Jerzy’s grand slam semifinal certainly backed up his Masters 1000 runner-up from late 2012. After a hard court summer that saw Janowicz play a competent match versus Rafael Nadal in Montreal and then flame out in Cincinnati and New York, Jerzy has a few people jumping ship.* Both men are 22 years old, are tall and strong, and are eventually going to have to challenge a group of players 4-5 years older than them who are flat out nasty. The post-Wimbledon tennis season has seen Milos’ stock rise. He reached his first ever Masters 1000 semifinal in Canada. He played reasonably well in Cincinnati. He then reached the US Open round of 16 losing a tight five set match to Richard Gasquet.
These results alone were promising but were not a breakthrough for Raonic. Winning a road Davis Cup match 10-8 in the fifth set shortly after letting a match point slip away vs. Gasquet demonstrates growth. Milos beating Janko Tipsarevic 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 is not the same thing as beating Murray, Djokoic or Nadal in a 5 set showdown. Still, it was a pressure packed situation as Canada already trailed 1-0 in matches. Tipsy led 1 set to love and 2 sets to 1. Raonic could have folded especially considering the surface change to clay from hard courts and the Serbian home court advantage. Winning this match took character from Raonic. He likely proved a lot to himself.
I think if Raonic is going to have challenge the 26 and 27 year olds at the top of the rankings, he will need to serve better. He will need to be more consistent with his serve, he will need to have a Sampras-like mentality of hitting his spots and knowing if he does his opponent likely can’t break him. Beyond that Milos will need to improve his mobility, his stamina and shore up various weak spots in his game. Still, self-belief is a major hurdle and a 10-8 win in the 5th set on the road coming right after one of the better stretches of his career means Milos should see himself as a top 10 player with a bright future. The indoor swing of 2013 should allow Milos to continue to build momentum. Good players take advantage of opportunities, and in December we’ll have an idea on how good Milos is right now.
* For the record, I think Jerzy’s athleticism, size and mean streak make him a good bet for the future if he can come to terms with being an elite player.