Raonic’s star continues to rise

(QMI Agency)

(QMI Agency)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:44 PM ET

Things are happening fast for Milos Raonic these days.

Almost as fast as one of his big, booming 240 km/h serves, in fact.

During the first two months of 2011, Raonic has jumped nearly 100 spots in the ATP Tour rankings and won his first title, the SAP Open in San Jose. The 20-year-old's rapid ascension continued Monday when he was bumped 25 places to 59th in the ATP rankings, a day after beating defending-champion Fernando Verdasco in straight sets at the SAP event.

"To tell you the truth, everything happened so fast (Sunday) night, that's a perfect example," Raonic said Monday during a conference call. "I haven't completely soaked up what happened, I haven't completely grasped it. I never really got to sit down and sort of think about it. I haven't grasped everything that has happened and how it has changed everything.

"I don't think right now is the time to be dwelling on that. Next time when I have a bit of time off I can take it and appreciate it more and sort of build on that."

What Raonic accomplished in San Jose has been 16 years in the making. A relative unknown on the tennis circuit who has suddenly been thrust into the national spotlight, Raonic became the first Canadian to win on the ATP tour since hard-serving Greg Rusedski did it in 1995.

The tournament win came on the heels of a surprising run to the fourth round at the Australian Open last month. By beating the likes of Mikhail Youzhny, seeded 10th at the Grand Slam event, he earned praise from tennis legends John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, who took turns calling him "the real deal" and "a new star."

Heady stuff for a player who was unable to qualify for the season-opening tournament in India. Heck, Raonic was barely on the radar -- he was ranked 152nd in the world before the Aussie Open -- six weeks ago.

So besides the obvious -- a neck-snapping serve that was clocked at 240 km/h in San Jose -- why the quick turnaround?

"In all the matches I've played my best, it has always come down to composure," said Raonic, who was once known for his explosive temperament on the court. "I think the improvement has come down to the right kind of work, staying healthy. When you don't think about this stuff (injuries), it allows you to train full out and push 100%. You're never feeling cautious about anything when you're in that state of mind."

A coaching change to Spaniard Galo Blanco last November seems to be having a positive impact on his game as well. Blanco, who runs a tennis academy in Barcelona, has helped with his composure.

"I worked with him for six weeks, he even did a few of the tournaments at the end of the year with me, sort of as a testing period to see how the relationship was," Raonic said. "It worked well. I had a very good, positive six weeks. I think it's showing through my results and my accomplishments so far."

Although forever linked as the past two Canadians to win on the ATP tour, Raonic and the now-retired Rusedski are similar, yet dissimilar. Raonic is 6-foot-5, Rusedski 6-foot-4. Both are known for their big serves.

But that's where the similarities end.

Raonic, who was born in Montenegro before coming here with his family at the age of three, insists he will continue to play for Canada, not the country of his birth. Rusedski, you'll recall, traded in his red Maple Leaf for a Union Jack in 1995.

"It's clear what my decision is and what nationality stays beside my name when I play tournaments and Davis Cup," he said Monday, repeating a familiar refrain. "I don't think much about it. My decision has been made so I don't really think about it at all."


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