Milos Raonic won his second career title in Chennai at the weekend, lifting his ranking to number 25 and, as if we didn’t know already, marking him out as one of the big dangers to the favourites in Melbourne. At the age of 21, the Montenegro maestro (I just thought of that) seems destined to be one of the stars of the future and here are a few insights into just what makes the man with the biggest serve in the game tick.
On meeting his idol, Pete Sampras
“It was probably the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done. Not nerve-wracking, because I knew he was a tennis player and I knew he wouldn’t be too different but just probably the most memorable thing so far as far as meeting a person. It’s pretty special. The thing he told me is: ‘A champion always finds a way to win even when they’re not playing their best’. I’m not saying I’m a champion or anything but I’m happy because even on my least favourite service I am finding a way to win. He signed a picture from the meeting we had and wrote good luck on it. It is framed, Justin Gimelstob gave it to me and I actually have it in our house. I put it up beside my trophies because it’s probably one of the most special things I have.”
On the makings of his big serve
“It just sort of came together. Even from a young age I was able to serve pinpoint, play well. I spent a lot of time on it and just never focused on speed, that sort of came I guess with a lot of hours and a good shoulder, just fortunate. I just have a good mental outlook on it, I think. I keep the same rhythm for everything. I’m able to hit all the spots from the same toss and I think this is important, to try to give away as little as possible. I remember in school I was good at shot put and all this kind of stuff, just shoulder-wise, without working on it. I was fortunate. As long as I keep getting the free points I’ll be happy, I don’t care if it’s 105mph or 160mph.”
On channelling his inner geek (don’t be alarmed, Pete)
“I remember watching that final when (Sampras) beat Rafter, I think it was his 13th slam (in 2000). Climbing up, going to his parents, I remember all that. I think I’ve watched that match numerous times. There are a lot of his matches I’ve watched numerous times. He was the one who stood out in my mind and that I could watch numerous times. And knowing what was going to happen on the next point, I still found it amazing to watch. Even to this day, once in a month or a few weeks I’ll end up YouTube-ing something I hadn’t seen before, when I’m bored in my room. Something fun to watch.”
On what makes him happy
“My sister has twins and the most important thing for me is I want to be able to buy her a bigger (car), probably an SUV, something safer. To tell you the truth, out of everybody I see, those two kids probably make me smile on a daily basis, whenever I can even see them on Skype. It’s a boy and a girl, David and Emma. I really miss those two the most.”
On the importance of family
I’ll tell you right away the most important, biggest thing is that my parents are willing to do anything for me, just so I can focus on tennis. They really want to try to enjoy this with me as much as they can and I think the most special part is calling them after the matches and seeing the happiness in them, because they’re the ones that have been through everything with me. Back then I didn’t really appreciate it, I didn’t know what it meant to have to wake up at six-o-clock in the morning but when I have to do it now, it’s not fun.
On his Serbo-Croat
It’s perfect. My parents made sure. I remember I hated it at first, going to Saturday school, to Serbian school for the language. My parents would never talk to me in English, outside of when it was related to school. But they made sure I know it. For them this was very important and even for me. I appreciate it a lot more now than I did back then.
On what he eats before matches
It’s always medium-rare steak and I try to find as good of a steak place, but it’s the night before when I eat the steak. (Shortly) before my match I’ll just eat plain pasta.
On his relationship with Novak Djokovic and the other Serbian players
We get along amazing. We speak in Serbian. We joke around, the locker room is a lot of fun and it’s very different to being on the court. It’s fun to have these great relationships on tour while you’re away from home so many weeks of the year.