|For Milos Raonic, it's time to look towards Wimbledon. (AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)
TORONTO -- Milos Raonic has enjoyed a remarkable start to the 2011 ATP World Tour, rising 129 ranking spots from the end of last year to become the No. 27 men's singles player in the world.
It's an accomplishment that has been overshadowed by second-ranked Novak Djokavic's scorching start to the season, but, without question, Raonic has been the breakout story of the year.
Raonic's rise first began at the Australian Open, where he made it to the Round of 16, knocking off then-No. 10 Mikail Youzhny to get there.
From that point onward, the 20-year-old saw continued success, reaching the finals in two events, actually winning one of those in San Jose, Calif., and making it to the semifinals of another tour stop.
In addition to his success, there's another reason the Thornhill, Ont., native has had his ranking increase -- he hasn't had any points to defend this year.
On the ATP and WTA tours, rankings are determined according to how many points players have. Players gain points by winning or going deep into tournaments and, depending on their ranking the previous year, they actually lose points for not doing as well as they should.
In the case of Raonic, since he was virtually an unknown last year, he can't really lose points at all this year because of how low he was ranked before. He's essentially playing with house money.
Knowing that his position is pretty safe for an entire year can be pretty reassuring, but it doesn't mean there's no pressure being put on Raonic.
Coming from a country that has never really produced a great singles player, there's a lot on Raonic to be a representative of Canadian tennis. The local media has latched onto him as the nation's great hope in the sport and the way he responds to how he did at the French Open will indicate if he's mentally ready for that kind of responsibility.
Raonic shockingly lost his opening-round match in Paris in four sets to 95th- ranked Michael Berrer.
The German veteran shouldn't have given Raonic any trouble at all, but he took advantage of Raonic's dreadful 47 unforced errors to win in convincing fashion.
This was the first time in the Canadian's young career that there was legitimate expectation of him and he didn't live up to it. The pressure put on Raonic to perform may be a little unfair given his age and, in the two tournaments leading up to the French Open, he was knocked out of the first round. But seeing how well he played in his last major, the belief put into him was certainly warranted.
Tennis, like golf, is a sport in which a player's performance in the major championships is what matters the most and to be taken out right from the get-go will be difficult for Raonic.
What's important now is for him to not dwell on it and, instead, focus on Wimbledon. His ranking still isn't in any danger and, historically, the red clay of Roland Garros hasn't been kind to power players like Raonic.
During Wimbledon at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, his deadly serve will become more devastating, allowing him to get into a rhythm more quickly. Raonic's main problem on Monday was the fact that he couldn't get into a pace that was comfortable for him, leading to unforced errors.
The result at Roland Garros was extremely disappointing, but with clay season officially behind him, there's no reason why Raonic can't continue to have a great year in one that's already been quite exceptional.