Milos Raonic ready for challenges of ATP’s return after making most of hiatus

During a global pandemic, Milos Raonic is not using his newfound time off for video games and Netflix binging.

With the ATP on hiatus, the world No. 30 and former Wimbledon finalist is taking the extended time off to build up his body, sharpen his game and prepare tactically for a return to live tennis later this summer.

“I took a very short break and then got straight into training,” said Raonic, appearing on the Match Point Canada podcast.

Speaking from his home via a Zoom call, the Canadian revealed how he’s dedicated his time to separate training blocks alongside his coaching team led by Mario Tudor.

“The first block we really focused on was a little bit of tennis,” Raonic said. “Just to keep the feel of the ball, to keep hitting the ball on court, but really focused on fitness and making sure that I could sort of restructure and rebuild my body.

“The second block we definitely increased the intensity and volume of tennis and started working on more things, implementing different situations. Specific movements, different strategies that I would like to use — coming forward a bit, striking on the first ball with returns.

“The next block is going to be really situational, a lot more time on court, and obviously going to keep fine-tuning the fitness.”

Before COVID-19 halted play on tour, Raonic had been exhibiting signs of his best tennis, the level that allowed him to reach world No. 3 in 2016 and made him the first (and only) men’s grand slam singles finalist in Canadian tennis history.

He produced a quarterfinals run Down Under at the Australian Open that featured dominant straight-set victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Marin Cilic. He also reached the semifinals of the Delray Beach Open in February.

More promising than the results, though, was the way the six-foot-five Canadian’s body held up.

“One thing that I have been fortunate over the last couple of months, even before coronavirus, was I was healthy,” Raonic said. “I wasn’t rehabbing any issues.

“I was able to train, spend as much time as I can on court and do the things that I can best to prepare myself.”

Without a daunting full calendar season ahead, Raonic is now hopeful to impose his game in a short time span.

The ATP calendar is scheduled to resume Aug. 14 from the Citi Open in Washington before moving to the grounds at Flushing Meadows in New York, where the Western & Southern Open — normally played in Cincinnati, but relocated due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and the US Open will be held back-to-back.

After that, it’s a transition to the clay-court surface with stops in Madrid and Rome before the French Open in late September.

If he can manage it, Raonic wants a crack at everything.

“I would love to play in Washington if that event is going to happen and follow through, and then lead off with Cincinnati, US Open and be there for all of the events,” Raonic said. “I think you have to make the decision as you see how it plays out for you physically, mentally, how many matches you’re playing.

“I haven’t played on clay the last few years because of physical issues. Now, being with my team, all those things have calmed down and have been under control for quite some time. I feel like it’s something that I’m going to participate in this year.”

Team world’s Milos Raonic celebrates after winning a point against Team Europe’s Alexander Zverev during their single match at the Laver Cup tennis event in Geneva, Switzerland, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

If play does resume as planned, tennis in 2020 — much like every other aspect of life — will be different.

There will be no live spectators. There will be no physical contact or handshaking from competitors, and strict testing and various other health protocols are expected to be in place as players will minimize their movements from hotel to tennis venues and back.

It’s especially an adjustment for top players like Raonic, who are used to drawing large crowds of thousands inside small, electric stadiums.

“I think it might make a difference,” said the Canadian. “You know, even Court 17, which is a nice court at the US Open. Good crowd that holds noise pretty well. And it’s pretty much silence. Are guys going to maybe check out a little earlier because there isn’t that energy to get you sort of back into it?”

Raonic sees it as another challenge to simply adapt to.

“Going from tournament to tournament, changing conditions, changing courts, all these kinds of things, you have to adjust. This is going to be another one of those steps.”

While several top players have been active on social media via TikTok, Twitter, or participating in Instagram Live chats, Raonic has kept a low profile.

It’s something that suits his introverted personality.

“I’ve actually liked to be part of an isolation and just really focus on my tennis. This new way of life has not been so unfamiliar to me as it may have been to people that are not travelling as much as tennis players from a young age.”

Raonic did share that a new, furrier presence, has managed to divert his attention in quarantine.

“One of the biggest changes for me has been getting a puppy.”

“It’s been a pleasant welcome and it’s been great. It does take up a lot of time. Five a.m. wake-up calls, 11 o’clock bathroom calls. But it’s been a lot of fun and it’s added a whole other context through these last few months.”

So, while it is difficult, it’s not entirely impossible to break Raonic’s focus.

Fortunately for the Canadian, the site at Flushing Meadows is likely to be dog (and spectator) free.

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