Canada’s Milos Raonic got off to the best possible start at the French Open on Monday with a straight sets victory in the first round. Al Dannity looks at how the Thornhill, Ont. player has matured since his exit at this stage a year ago.
A year of learning
The 2011 clay court season was rough on Milos Raonic, ending in a first round defeat at Roland Garros. In the winter he vowed to work on his game and become more of a threat in the run-up to the French Open. Raonic’s decision to train in Barcelona over the winter months has paid dividends this spring. Despite an early exit in Monte Carlo, Raonic lit up the courts at Barcelona in his run to the semi-finals. Known as a hard court specialist, the Canadian showed he is comfortable kicking up red dust. He followed that up by pushing Roger Federer to the limit in Madrid.
Despite a first round loss in Rome, Raonic entered this year’s French Open in a better frame of mind than 2011. His strength showed on Monday. Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo was no match for Raonic, going down 6-4 6-2 6-2. The turning point came at 4-4 in the first set. With the Spaniard 40-0 up on serve, Raonic battled back to deuce and then broke Hidalgo. That’s the difference between the Raonic of 2011 and the player he is today. Raonic is staying in games now at 40-0, forcing everything out of his opponents. With that break the Canadian took control to march into the second round.
Another chance to build
Ottawa-born American Jesse Levine awaits in the second round, an opponent the #19 seeded Raonic will be expected to beat. Making it this far already guarantees a rankings bump for the Canadian but the real prizes await in the rounds to come. Should Raonic beat Levine, he will likely face Juan Monaco. The #13 seed Argentinian gets his campaign under way today and pushed Novak Djokovic to a deciding set in Rome two weeks ago. It has however been a quiet enough clay campaign for Monaco, who has never faced Raonic. That could present the Canadian to catch Monaco while there is still some rust in his game. A more natural clay courter, Monaco would be favored should they meet but Raonic has the tools to win. The prize after that is well known. Should Raonic make the fourth round of a grand slam for only the second time in his career, he will earn a shot at six-time champion Rafael Nadal.
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