LONDON // When Milos Raonic burst onto the scene in 2011, the superlatives came thick and fast, appropriately enough for a man who once fired a serve nudging the 250km/h mark.
“Bigger than big”, said Pete Sampras, Raonic’s childhood idol, after facing the giant Canadian in an exhibition match.
“The real deal”, former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe enthused, while Martina Navratilova confidently predicted he was a “new star”.
Raonic has become accustomed to the plaudits and to hearing the words “the first” when his name is mentioned.
However, the 25-year-old player missed out on another first on Sunday when he lost to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final thwarting his bid to become Canada's first grand slam champion.
The Montenegro-born world No 7 was the first man born in the 1990s to win an ATP Tour title and first to book a place in the elite season-ending World Tour Finals.
He was the first Canadian man to break into the top 10 and the first to go all the way to a major semi-final at the All England Club in 2014.
He bettered that feat on Friday with his stunning defeat of Roger Federer to reach Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
Raonic was born in Podgorica in Montenegro on December 27, 1990, but his family, concerned over the political unrest in the Balkans, moved to Canada when he was three.
“Where my family came from, the situation we were in sort of gave us no option,” Raonic said when asked to recount his family’s big life-changing decision.
Settling in Ontario, Raonic started playing tennis when he was eight, training in the morning and evenings after school while his father Dusan fed the ball machine.
“Me and my father started on the ball machine every morning at 6 in the morning and 9 at night, because that’s when court fees were affordable enough for us,” he recalled. “I remember that ball machine pretty well.”
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From Ontario, Raonic moved to Montreal as part of the national tennis programme when he was 16.
His breakthrough as a professional came in 2011 when he made the Australian Open fourth round as a qualifier.
Three weeks later he won his first career title at San Jose and within the space of a month his ranking shot up from 152 to 37.
He went on to be named ATP Newcomer of the Year while, in 2014, he made his first semi-final at a major, losing to Federer at Wimbledon.
Raonic was back in the last-four of a major again in Australia in January, giving up a two sets to one lead against Murray.
But it is not all been smooth sailing for Raonic.
At the 2013 Canadian Open, he was at the centre of a row over bad sportsmanship when he won a point despite his foot touching the net in a match against Juan Martin del Potro.
He did not acknowledge the slip and there were many who were not sorry to see him lose the final in just 98 minutes to Rafael Nadal. “I’m disappointed with myself – I made a mistake in the spur of the moment,” he explained.
As a mark of his success, Raonic now lives in Monte Carlo and has a supermodel girlfriend, Danielle Knudson.
He also briefly became a cult figure on social media when he adopted the bizarre fashion of wearing a compression sleeve on his serving arm. The sleeve even had its own Twitter account @milosrightarm. That was probably a first, too.
However, a first major title will have to wait.
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