Thank the tennis gods, because the ATP season is finally in full flow with action taking place in Brisbane, Doha and Chennai. I think the main exclamation point has been Rafael Nadal‘s form which, until today, looked like vintage Rafa.
But in the Brisbane quarter-finals he came up against the solid and efficient Milos Raonic who despite losing the first set kept his composure and thanks to his masterful serve and some blistering forehands prevailed by the scoreline of: 4-6 6-3 6-4.
Raonic is probably the one player on the ATP Tour who is most obsessed with constantly tweaking and improving his game AND team. Last year he worked successfully with Carlos Moya and John McEnroe and now he has released Moya (who joined his buddy Nadal instead) and added serve-and-volley expert Richard Kraijcek which looks like an attempt at the Wimbledon crown (last year Raonic reached the final but came up short against Andy Murray).
Raonic has the kind of efficient game reminiscent of a certain Pete Sampras, but lacks the finesse of for example Federer, Murray and Djokovic. Will it be enough for him to become the next world number one after Murray? I think it’s highly possible, but it will probably require more work on fitness and his double-handed backhand. With the level of the top players today, it’s not enough to be highly efficient, you need to have pretty much all the shots, since a weakness will be picked up and taken advantage of instantly on the cutthroat ATP Tour.
If you take into account how marketable Raonic is as an ambassador for the sport he is obviously not close in potential to the biggest brand in sport today, Roger Federer, neither is he as engaging and interesting as Rafael Nadal. But I wouldn’t say he is worse off in this respect than Murray or Djokovic who hasn’t been close to cracking audiences and building personal brands like Federer and Nadal.
Raonic is currently number three in the world rankings, slightly ahead of Stanislas Wawrinka. If he is going to maintain his upward trajectory in the men’s game he needs a grand slam title and although Australian Open might be too gruelling for him, I truly think he has a good shot at winning Wimbledon in 2017.
What do you think of Raonic’s chances to become world number one? Please comment below.