Canada’s Raonic ‘still struggling’ with decision to pull out of Olympics

Arash Madani sits down with Milos Raonic to talk about his decision to stay home from the upcoming Olympics, and why the star is still at odds with himself for making that decision.

TORONTO – On Friday, Milos Raonic announced he was pulling out of the Rio Olympics – in large part due to the fears involved with the Zika virus. But in reality, his decision had as much to do with his tennis, and hopes of a push at the U.S. Open, as it did his health.

So said the Canadian tennis star, in a wide-ranging exclusive visit with Sportsnet Monday morning – his first sit-down interview since falling to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final eight days ago.

“It’s the best choice for me to put the attention to Toronto and Cincinnati and lead it up to where I want to take things in New York,” Raonic said. “I’m close, and I’m getting closer in every tournament. And I really badly want it, so it’s about putting those pieces together as much as I can to make that happen for myself."

Which is why Raonic decided on skipping the trip to Rio.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” he said.

Raonic has now returned home to Toronto, and will stay here until the end of Rogers Cup (July 25-31). While he was slated to fly to Brazil on Aug. 1, he’ll now stay and train in North America, play another Masters 1000 series event in Ohio and not even have to leave the time zone, nor travel longer than 90 minutes, for the next six weeks.

“I’ve never done well with doing three tournaments in a row. I’ve always tried to keep it to two – not three,” Raonic reasoned. “Factor in it’s three tournaments with at least 12 hours of travel to one, and also (the Olympics) can be quite emotionally draining because it’s just not about tennis there, but the spectacle of things. For that, it’s the best choice.”

Raonic had been a face of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s advertising campaign in the lead up to Rio, which weighed on him before making up his mind. He thought back to his first Summer Games in London four years ago where he had a ball representing Canada at the tennis competition in Wimbledon, battling Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an epic duel that the Frenchman won 25-23 in the deciding set. Raonic marched with his fellow Olympians in the opening ceremony in 2012. He considered all of it before officially withdrawing on Friday.

“It’s still a decision I’m still struggling (with), but a decision that I made and that I’ve committed to,” Raonic said. “But it’s a decision that I’m struggling, still, to accept at this point … because I want to be there. So you can’t erase that emotional factor. You want to be there.

“You want to play, you want to compete, and you want to experience that. So I can’t just nullify that and put the emotional factor to zero just because I wrote a Facebook post and made a decision publicly. That’s still going to stick and it’s still going to be a decision I’ll face throughout Rio and probably after when you hear about other success stories and you wish you could have been part of it.”

Raonic returned to Canada on Sunday night and said he had been on-court upwards of four hours a day in New York after Wimbledon. He had sessions with John McEnroe there, and the Canadian said that the two will continue their working relationship through the hardcourt season – but on non-tournament weeks. McEnroe will not be in Toronto, nor in Raonic’s box in Cincinnati next month. Carlos Moya, who joined Raonic’s team for the start of the 2016 season, will attend both.

Raonic is on track to reach his second World Tour Finals in three years. While his ranking is No. 7 on tour, he’s third in the “race” to the end-of-season event in London in November, reserved for the top-eight point getters on tour in a season. With the Olympics out of the picture, his focus is now on the Rogers Cup and ultimately on the U.S. Open.

“When you sit down with my family, my team, and make the calculation of really, what’s my goal, what’s the best I can get out of myself, (Rio) wasn’t the solution,” Raonic said. “And that’s what hurt the most to make the decision, and it wasn’t an easy one to make.”

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