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Abu Dhabi will provide Milos Raonic launchpad for 2016 season

After injury and a rushed comeback resulting in a less-than-satisfactory 2015, the Canadian is fit and raring to go, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Milos Raonic will need to do better in 2016 than he did this year to live up to his incredible promise. Wang Zhao / AFP
Milos Raonic will need to do better in 2016 than he did this year to live up to his incredible promise. Wang Zhao / AFP

Blame it on the depth of the field that the Mubadala World Tennis Championship attracts every year, or his own injury-plagued 2015, but Milos Raonic, at No 14, is the lowest-ranked player in the six-man cast for this weekend’s tennis extravaganza at Abu Dhabi.

Sounds odd, does it not?

Twelve months ago, Raonic was being hailed as the best of Generation Next as he started the year at No 8 and climbed to No 4 by May following a string of solid performances at the big tournaments, including a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open.

Then a nerve injury in his right foot forced the big-serving Canadian to skip the French Open.

A semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2014, Raonic, 24, possibly rushed his return from the surgery in a bid to make an appearance at the championships.

According to some suggestions, his back problems, which started at the US Open, are a consequence of that decision.

That is all yesterday’s news to Raonic.

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“I’m excited for 2016, I must admit,” he said. “My target is to add to my five ATP titles and to climb the rankings even farther, but it’s also an Olympic year and I’m keen to do well at Rio.

“Hopefully Abu Dhabi can be the catalyst that I need to prepare for a big year.”

With grand slam tournament winners Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka here at Abu Dhabi, Raonic will certainly have a good chance of measuring his current form against the world’s best.

He has struggled against them in the past with a combined 5-27 record against Novak Djokovic (0-5), Andy Murray (3-3), Roger Federer (1-9), Wawrinka (0-4) and Nadal (1-6).

So Raonic will have a point to improve in the new season.

Unfortunately he will not have his coach of the past 30 months, Ivan Ljubicic, in his corner, as the Croat has left to join Federer’s team.

Raonic has decided against bringing in a replacement and has instead put his trust in veteran Ricardo Piatti, who has been a part of his coaching team since March 2014.

It will be interesting to see how that works for Raonic, though he is itching to start his campaign and test himself “against world-class opponents before the new season” at Abu Dhabi.

First up on Thursday is ace-machine Kevin Anderson, and the South African will be as stiff a challenge as the ones lying ahead.

Raonic, then, will have to come out all guns blazing.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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Published: December 28, 2015 04:00 AM

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