Raonic named Sportsnet’s Athlete of the Year

Milos Raonic.

Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic has been named Sportsnet’s 2013 Canadian Athlete of the Year. Raonic’s win will be celebrated in a special half-hour interview with Stephen Brunt today at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West, and Pacific.

Sportsnet’s 11th annual Athlete of the Year award was voted on by a panel of contributors from Sportsnet’s TV, radio, web and magazine platforms. Past winners include soccer star Christine Sinclair (2012), figure skater Patrick Chan (2011), and three-time winner UFC champ Georges St-Pierre. In honour of the award, Sportsnet is donating $10,000 to Raonic’s charity of choice.

“It’s a great feeling. There’s an aura around Canadian athletes,” said Raonic. “Whether it’s in the NBA, college sports, figure skating or hockey, there’s a bit more of a spotlight, and I think it’s special to be part of that and to receive this award for 2013 is an honour.”

Also nominated this year were IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, PGA golfer Graham DeLaet, No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Bennett, and Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews. For a special feature on each nominee, visit our Athlete of the Year page and watch Connected today at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.

For more on Raonic’s banner year, fans can pick up Sportsnet magazine’s annual awards issue, on newsstands today. In addition to Brunt’s interview with Raonic, the issue also hands out dozens of accolades for 2013’s best and worst – and weirdest – in sports

Raonic recently sat down with Stephen Brunt to talk about climbing the world rankings, playing with a maple leaf on his chest and what’s ahead.

Stephen Brunt: Most athletes know early on that they’re better. They’re extraordinary, they’re exceptional. What was the moment for you as a kid playing tennis when you thought, “I’m really good at this”? When did it start to click that you are extraordinary?

Milos Raonic: A lot of it came from my parents—having that expected from me, whether it be in tennis or at school. I remember I would come home with a low-90s, high-80s mark and my parents would say, “We want better.” I was always a little timid about it, but the moment when I said, “Okay, I can really do this,” was when I decided to go pro in 2008. That was a week before I was supposed to show up to university—I had signed a letter of intent to go to the University of Virginia—but I said, “No, I’m going to go the pro route.” And even then, the goals and objectives were very different from what they are now. Now it’s about being the best in the world, whereas in 2008, I would’ve been happier with much [less].

SB: Talk about your own expectations when you got onto the plane to go to Australia at the beginning of the season.

MR: I was pretty clear that I wanted to make the year-end finals, so top eight.

SB: And you finished just outside of that.

MR: Just outside, and in a very good state of mind. I don’t think I really missed the goal. I really missed on the first half of the year, and the level I displayed from Montreal onward is where I really need to be. It gives me a lot of direction, momentum and confidence going into 2014 and the work and preparation I need to do.

SB: You had some reasonable results early in the season.

MR: I did, but when you look at the big picture, did I put it together consistently? Was I there the way I needed to be? Was I struggling? I felt like in the first seven months I would put on three weeks where everything was going. That would be the two Davis Cup weeks and then San Jose [the SAP Open]. Everything else felt like it just wasn’t coming together and it wasn’t clicking. The fact that I got it turned around—and not only did I get back to where I wanted to be, but I was better than I wanted to be in that moment—that’s what I’m most proud of.

SB: What did it mean to you to be able to play for Canada and put tennis in that category where people wrap themselves in the flag and you’re the guy?

MR: There are two moments that I would say are the best moments for me this year. Most of it happened on home soil in Canada, and every match I played there [I was wearing a maple leaf]. That was the Davis Cup and the Masters in Montreal. To have those moments, especially in Montreal, that had more significance because I was struggling—that’s when I got it back together and started finding the answers within myself.

SB: How’d it feel walking out for the final in Montreal?

MR: It felt pretty normal. The moment when it really took over is when they announced me and they said, “First-ever Canadian to reach the top 10,” and I got a five-minute warm-up that probably turned into a 10-minute warm-up because of the ovation I got. That’s really when it became emotional and much more special.

SB: So let’s look ahead to 2014. It’s not very long before you’ll be getting on a plane to Australia. You talked about your goals for 2013—what are your goals for 2014?

MR: I haven’t put a specific number on it. Last year, I was saying that I wanted to finish in the top eight and make the year-end Masters in London. It’s going to be along those same objectives, but it’s going to be higher up—not just top eight.