In 1995, Milos Raonic was a four-year-old boy, not yet old enough to read, let alone hold a tennis racquet.
Meanwhile, 6,000km away, Spanish tennis player Galo Blanco was starting his professional tennis career on the ATP World Tour.
Fast-forward 17 years and Blanco and Raonic are a match made in tennis heaven.
In the fall of 2010, Raonic was a 19-year-old kid ranked No. 230 in the world. He had a big serve, but the rest of his game needed a lot of improvement.
That’s when Raonic began working with Blanco for a three-week trial period, and the Spaniard quickly became the Canuck’s permanent coach.
“My (first) impression (of Milos) was that he was a boy with a lot of potential,” Blanco said of their first meeting. “With a 19-year-old kid, you can work on a lot of things.”
Blanco and Raonic were on the same page right from the start.
“I liked what (Galo) believed — what I needed to do to make the next step (in my career) and where he felt I could be and when,” Raonic said.
Just a few short months after they began working together, Raonic broke onto the ATP scene when he reached the fourth round of the Australian Open. Now, two years after their partnership began, Raonic has won three ATP titles and he’s ranked No. 14 in the world. Not too shabby.
Before he began his coaching career, Blanco had a successful pro career of his own, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 40 in the world and even beating Raonic’s childhood idol Pete Sampras in the 2001 French Open second round. Blanco has a lot of experience both on and off the court that he can share with Raonic.
“It’s obvious that if I make Milos play the same way I used to, I wouldn’t be doing my job,” Blanco said. “I can teach him how to push through more and try to instill the Spanish mentality which in tennis is try to be better every day, and to achieve this means you have to work more and more everyday and don’t ever get satisfied.”
In the past decade, Spain has been a tennis powerhouse, breeding stars like Feliciano Lopez (who Blanco used to coach), Fernando Verdasco, Nicolas Almagro, and Rafael Nadal. The Spaniards know how to develop tennis stars — even when it’s a Canadian kid from Montenegro.
“(With) Spain being the best breeding ground for tennis players the last 10 years, it was not a difficult choice to move into that competitive atmosphere,” Raonic said. “I think the best thing about their atmosphere is their openness and willingness to help each other out.”
Raonic trains out of Barcelona and he regularly practises and spends time with the Spanish players. But the one Spaniard he spends the most time with is Blanco.
On the court, Raonic says that he and Blanco “keep it all business,” but off court they’re good friends and almost like family.
“Since I started with him (in 2010), I always told (Milos) I wanted to be his coach on the tennis court but his friend outside,” Blanco said. “We share a lot of things. We spend almost 24 hours a day together and at the end of the day, if you are always the tennis coach, the relationship can burn quickly. Milos … could be my little brother and I always will fight for him, give him whatever he needs.”
As good as he now is, Raonic still needs a lot more work, but that’s an exciting challenge for Blanco.
“I don’t think there’s a No. 1 thing (we need) to work on,” Blanco said. “There are a lot of specifics and all of them very important. That’s what will make him that good. He is already 14 in the rankings and he has a lot of room to improve.”
They may be two years into this journey, but Blanco and Raonic are just getting started.