Milos Raonic made history back on Aug. 12 when he became the first Canadian tennis player to be top 10 in the world.
It didn’t last long.
Just one week later, Raonic was bounced out of the top 10 after losing to American John Isner at a Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, and went on to drop a tough and sweaty five-set match to France’s Richard Gasquet in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Losing in the third round of a Grand Slam event is not a reason to panic. But with all the hype and hysteria that surrounds everything Raonic fuels in Canada, backlash and criticism seem to come easy.
The Canadian Press’s story said “fatigue” got the best of Raonic at the U.S. Open, despite him making no mention of that in his post-match press conference. The 22-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. did concede that he had felt “sort of a little bit under the weather” and added, “but that’s about it”.
With every loss, particularly at major tournaments, questions are raised about Raonic’s ability to push through in a Grand Slam, with critics looking for some kind of tangible proof to the abstract notion of whether he “deserves” to be a top 10 tennis player.
He does deserve it, because frankly, that doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Outside of the top three (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray), Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro are the only members of the top 10 who have at least one Grand Slam title – and the numbers there are significant.
Federer’s well, Federer. Regarded as arguably the greatest player of all time, the Swiss champ’s leading the pack with 17 titles. Del Potro, the 24-year-old world no. 7 from Argentina has just one major title – he upset Federer at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Sexy it is not, but tennis players are rewarded for consistency, not just results on the biggest stages. This is both good news and bad news for Raonic, who at 22 has accomplished a great deal in his short career, despite somewhat lackluster performances at Grand Slams, never moving beyond the fourth round.
Regardless of the results at majors, there’s no arguing whether Raonic deserved to ascend the rankings – he earned the points. There are no mistakes in the ATP system.
You perform in a tournament, you earn points, and the points build your ranking. There are more points to be earned in a Grand Slam like the U.S. Open, but it’s usually the “smaller” tournaments where the real gains are made, and making steady progress bodes well for future performances.
That’s the idea, anyway.
Another player who has failed to translate ranking into results is 27-year-old Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. He has been a top 10 player since 2010, but has only reached one final at a major, in 2010 at Wimbledon, after a then-shocking upset of Federer in the semi-finals.
Since then, the six-foot-five Czech has stayed comfortably within the top 10, currently the world no. 5, despite lacking deep runs at the majors.
Whether this is comforting for Raonic, his fans or his detractors is certainly up for debate but in tennis, there’s just no getting around time. Patience is required and as the old adage goes, there’s no substitute for experience.
It’s also worth noting that it took Berdych 10 years to reach his first semi-final at the U.S. Open.
In Raonic’s three trips to Flushing Meadows, he has reached the fourth round twice, and lost in the first round in his first visit, after making it through three tough qualifying rounds back in 2010. Fourth round doesn’t sound exciting – but it is, especially coming in New York.
The U.S. Open is probably the tournament that most would give Raonic his best shot for making a breakthrough run. The Canadian’s big serve does well on the hard courts, and coming at the end of the season, following the Rogers Cup that he plays on home turf, the momentum should always be in Raonic’s favour to do something great under the bright lights of New York City.