|Milos Raonic returns a shot against Fernando Verdasco during the Estoril Open in Lisbon, Portugal, April 30, 2011. (HUGO CORREIA/Reuters)
Milos Raonic wasn't about to channel Mark Messier before the start of the biggest tournament of his young tennis career.
There weren't any bold predictions from the rising Canadian star, no guarantees of a win on the fabled red clay of Roland Garros Stadium on the outskirts of Paris.
Instead, Raonic opted to take a low-key approach prior to playing in his first French Open as a professional, sounding more like an awe-struck ball boy than the former New York Rangers captain.
"Honestly, I think it's more (about) trying to enjoy it, soak up the experience with it being my first time playing as a professional," Raonic said on a conference call Thursday. "It's pretty exciting playing here the first time and being seeded. I'm looking to build off of it, it's a starting point. It's a Grand Slam, a big tournament, and I want to try to play my best. So far I haven't had the chance to really experience too much. I haven't been around the crowds too much, that kind of stuff. So I haven't had much of a taste of that.
"I think the most spectacular thing is, really, this is a Grand Slam, this is one of the four most prestigious tournaments of the year, and I think it has to be treated with respect. These are the tournaments you look forward to playing your best tennis. These are the tournaments you want to peak at, you want to play your best tennis at, and that's what I'm looking forward to doing."
Despite never having played in the French Open before, Raonic will have some positive Grand Slam experience to draw on next week, though. He advanced to the round of 16 at the Australian Open in January, a result that started his rapid ascent up the ATP rankings.
But there will be some differences, notably the clay surface at Roland Garros.
"A lot of it is mental, just the patience of it, being ready for an extra ball to come back," he said. "I've spent a lot of time working on clay. It also gives me a lot of opportunities to get back into points. If my opponent hits a good shot, I can find a way to get back into it, sort of give myself the chance to dig my way back into the point."
Raonic, ranked 28th in the world and seeded for the second Grand Slam of the year, will find out Friday whom he will play in the first round when the draw is revealed. Andy Roddick of the U.S., ranked 11th in the world, pulled out of the French Open Thursday along with former champion Juan Carlos Ferraro because of injuries so that will bump Raonic up one spot in the seedings.
After a bad back forced him to call it quits in the semifinals of the Estoril Open against Spain's Fernando Verdasco last month, Raonic was bounced in the first round the next two weeks at ATP Tour stops in Madrid and Rome. The time off has allowed Raonic to heal, though, and he says he's fine for the French Open.
"Everything is good, actually," he said. "There was a little bit of a positive from that early exit in Rome, from the mental aspect to the physical aspect. The body is good, nothing is really bothering me at all. It let me refresh a bit and get a bit more hungry so everything is good."