Milos Raonic: Two years ago the Canadian newcomer was a breakthrough star at the Australian Open, where as a qualifier he trotted into the fourth round, beating No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny along the way. Now the big server is a mainstay inside the top 20.
Strengths: For Milos, it’s all about the serve. The 21 year old plays the game much like his idol Pete Sampras did: by hitting as many aces as he physically can in each and every match. He belted 1,002 aces in 2012, winning 82% of his first serve points over the year. Such a serve allows Raonic to relax in the rest of his game, attacking the net behind a big forehand and making his opponents hold serve with the added pressure that if they don’t, they have a big task at hand in breaking his.
Weaknesses: The holes in Raonic’s game are the ones you may suspect from a 6-foot-5 acing machine: he’s a step slow, his return game needs improvement and he can oftentimes rely too heavily on his delivery to carry him through the match. So was true here last year when he was out-hustled by an inspired Lleyton Hewitt in a third-round upset. Raonic has to ratchet up more opportunities off of his return game, which he won just 15% of in 2012, converting break points only 39% of the time.
Opportunities: After solidifying himself as a true contender following his surprise run here in 2011, Raonic now has the chance to take his game to the next level and crack the top 10. While it’s clear that his return game needs cleaning, he should have a healthy shot at making a deep run if he used the off-season wisely. Many have pinned his name onto the wheel of next major contenders and he went 6-6 in 2012 against top 10 opponents, with wins over Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic.
Threats: While Raonic has difficulty with the Big Four, he also can get in his own way at times. Much like Lindsay Davenport and her slumped shoulders, the Montenegro native can snap into a moody and defeated state on the court, creating a difficult task for himself to conjure up a win. Smaller, return-focused players like Hewitt can also prove a problem for Milos, who finds trouble with them when their return game is sizzling and they have a single break in hand for the advantage.
Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director:
“Raonic is an up and coming superstar. He’s got all the ingredients, and has proved he can mix it with the big guys. I think he’s a good player. I think that he’ll have a breakthrough one of these events, but I’m not too sure whether it will be this year at the Australian Open.”