BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
Tennis fans are looking forward to a quarterfinal between David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet at the US Open on Wednesday. However, I can’t help but feel Milos Raonic missed a golden opportunity to make the last eight of a Grand Slam for the first time. Raonic lost a gut wrenching five-setter against Gasquet in the last 16 and the match is bound to haunt him for a while. I still believe that with a few tweaks, Raonic can reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam next year, and eventually become a top eight seed. Here are five things I believe Raonic should do to take his game to the next level.
1. Open the body on the backhand
Despite Raonic having an impressive summer on the hard courts, one of the most infuriating things to watch about the 22-year-old is the amount of times he just dumps standard backhand shots into the net. These backhand errors let opponents off the hook, when really Raonic should look at utilizing this shot to set up points or hit winners. The reason it happens so often is that Raonic gets a bit static with the backhand from the baseline, hitting the shot side-on rather than planting his right foot forward and using the moment of his body to hit through the ball.
This shortcoming is even more frustrating because when Raonic does position himself correctly, he hits an excellent heavy backhand down the line that more often than not puts him in a dominant position to win the point. If coach Ivan Ljubicic irons out the backhand, Raonic can be a more authoritative player from the baseline.
2. A topspin crosscourt forehand
Raonic has one of the most fearsome forehands in the game currently, and can hit a barrage of winners off his favoured wing. In fact, he can hit forehand winners from any angle of the court, whether it is crosscourt, down the line or inside out. Most opponents outside the top 10 normally don’t stand a chance against such offence. However, the very best are extremely adept at varying the pace of rallies with a variety of shots, and most prominently are extremely comfortable using topspin, either as a form of defence or to set up strong positions on court.
Raonic tends to go flatter most of the time, especially when engaging in crosscourt rallies, exposing him in a couple of ways. First, when consistently facing a heavy ball, the odds are that sooner rather than later you are going to commit errors if you keep hitting it flat. Second, a wily opponent can change direction of the rally quickly, exposing Raonic’s position on the court. If Raonic hits more topspin off his crosscourt forehand not only will he reduce his errors, he will have control of rallies as the player that moves his opponents around.
3. Take it easy on the return
In the men’s game the rule of thumb when it comes to returning is just get the ball back in play and then see how the point progresses. Raonic seems to place an undue importance on hitting outright winners when returning. Of course at times when an opponent hits a nervous second serve on break point, the strategy can pay rich dividends. Nevertheless, the men’s game has now evolved to the point where a baseline rally will consist of at least eight shots as a minimum.
His statistics of 32 percent and 46 percent return points won on Gasquet’s first and second serve respectively, were a major reason for his defeat. If Raonic places a greater emphasis on keeping the ball in play when returning, he will get the opportunity to finish points at the right time as he has a bigger game than most of his opponents.
4. Develop a lower slice and be ruthless at net
Raonic’s movement going forward is extremely impressive for someone of his height. At the US Open he won many points at the net after hitting some solid inside out approach shots, in what was a very positive sign for the future. However, there were some approaches that were suicidal, mainly because he came in off weak slices. The slice doesn’t come naturally for Raonic, and more often than not the loopy nature of his shot means opponents treat it almost like a chip. Ljubicic has to work with Raonic in adding more under spin to his slice, ensuring opponents don’t have the luxury of a high bounce to hit an easy passing shot. A good low slice will add more variety to Raonic’s all-round game, and is a valuable tool to bring some much-needed subtlety to his game.
Raonic’s touch at net is quite underrated in my opinion, and he probably should be winning more points with his volleys. He can put away overheads with disdain, and not only is he good at punch volleys, he is also extremely effective at stabbing drop-volleys on the stretch. A 70 percent winning ratio at net isn’t bad, but the truth is Raonic can easily ratchet that up to 85 percent, as sometimes he just makes lazy errors at net. A top opponent will manage to hit a few passing winners every now and then, but gifting points by plonking simple volleys into the net are unacceptable in matches where no corner should be given.
5. Conquer the mental barrier
Raonic served 39 aces against Gasquet and still lost. It might seem churlish to bring up such an impressive stat in a negative light, but the fact of the matter is that when the pressure was on in crucial moments, the first serve completely failed Raonic. In fact, we even saw some double faults at the most inopportune moments. This follows a summer where the gravity of the occasion got to him in his no-show of a performance in the Rogers Cup final against Rafael Nadal in Montreal. In fact, even in the semi-final against compatriot Vasek Pospisil, Raonic was looping in his serves out of fear in the third set tiebreak.
It would be easy for Raonic to take refuge in his age and relative inexperience, but the truth is it is now three years since the Canadian announced himself with a run to the round of 16 at the Australian Open in 2011, and he has yet to make the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. There are plenty of examples of players that fans and experts alike were waiting to break through but ended their careers as unfulfilled talents.
Raonic should not suffer the same fate as long as he incorporates a few technical tweaks and marries it with a desire to hang in during the tough moments in matches. If he does work on improving his weaknesses at the age of 22, Raonic has all the makings of a consistent top 10 player and we could see the Canadian make deep runs in Grand Slams long into the future.