Big Five beware: Relaxed Milos Raonic reveals he’s the real deal at Australian Open

Ahmed Rizvi writes that after an impressive display over Milos Raonic in the Australian Open fourth round on Monday, Milos Raonic showed he might be breaking through.

Canada's Milos Raonic celebrates after beating Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open fourth round on Monday. William West / AFP / January 25, 2016
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Earlier in the week, the Australian newspaper Herald Sun asked Milos Raonic what he would be doing in his professional life if he was not a tennis player.

“I would like to be a basketball player but If I didn’t have those skills in me then I would like to be doing something on Wall Street,” the Canadian replied.

With his gelled-to-perfection hair and measured gait, Raonic, 25, would have certainly looked the part on Wall Street, dressed in a bespoke suit. In fact, he looks a bit Wall Street-ish even on a tennis court, stylish and standing apart from the crowd in his one-sleeve look.

Of course, both his hair and his sleeve are pretty popular on social media. There are Twitter accounts devoted to both his seemingly immovable coiffure and the sleeve; there is a popular hashtag #BelieveInTheSleeve as well.

Not everyone seems impressed with his hair though. Last year, his fellow Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard said she thought Raonic “spends too much time worrying about his hair”.

That, however, is not true. There is a lot more to Raonic. For one, he has a really sharp tennis brain and then he has a burning determination to succeed, and both were on exhibit at the Australian Open on Monday.

Facing Stan Wawrinka, that utterly explosive but unpredictable member of the now ‘Big Five’ club, for a place in the last eight, Raonic cruised to a comfortable two-sets-to-nil lead before the real Wawrinka showed up and, with a blitz of winners, took the match into the deciding fifth.

Raonic kept his calm. A day earlier, in a post on Instagram, he had written: “The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity. Now face that challenge with your strengths, and a mind full of fight and belief.”

Of course, he did just that, putting pressure on Wawrinka with some crisp net play before breaking him in the sixth game to take charge. A few minutes later, he was pumping his fists after an easy put away at the net for a 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 win – his first against Wawrinka in five attempts.

Of course, Wawrinka is not the only member of the Big Five club Raonic has beaten this month. He took out Roger Federer in the Brisbane final in straight sets, becoming the first player born in the 1990s to beat the 17-time grand slam champ twice; the first win came at the 2014 Paris Masters.

Raonic, of course, had already sent out a warning to his peers from Abu Dhabi, as he started his season at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships following an injury blighted 2015.

“I feel like I can do really good things,” Raonic had said. “I think I can break through and hopefully make a big result, much bigger than I have in the past.”

He had also revealed how he was trying to “come in a bit more, working my way up to the net” and work on that aspect of his game paid really rich dividends against Wawrinka.

Raonic's serve has always been his chief weapon. One of the best, if not the best, in the business, it has always caused plenty of damage. But the Canadian needed a few more arrows in his quiver and he seems to have added some in the off-season.

Against Wawrinka, he showed great movement on the court, gliding and stretching to reach those ballistic backhands coming from across the net. But probably the most noticeable addition was that sliced backhand followed by the short sprint to the net. Given his 1.96 metre frame, and those long, nimble limbs, Raonic can be a difficult man to pass at the net and Wawrinka can vouch for that now.

Raonic seems to have found solutions to another problem he has faced in the past – his inability to relax. “It’s just that I am not a patient guy,” he had said in Abu Dhabi. “When I want something, I try to get it as quickly as I can.”

The appointment of Carlos Moya to his coaching team, Raonic believes, is helping him find that peace and, again, it was evident against Wawrinka in those those tense moments.

It is all coming together for him then and the Big Five should beware. For, as Raonic said in Abu Dhabi, “I’m playing well, I’m fit and dammit if I’m not hungry”.

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