McEnroe, Roddick serve up advice for Raonic
Tennis Hall of Famers on what the Canadian must do to overcome the ‘Big Four’
Milos Raonic is the new standard for Canadian tennis.
At the age of 26, he's already the most successful singles player the country has ever produced.
The Thornhill, Ont., native reached a career-high ranking of No.3 in the world last November after making his first Grand Slam final appearance earlier in the year at Wimbledon, where he was defeated by Andy Murray.
Despite those accomplishments, there are doubts that Raonic can overcome men's tennis' "Big Four" — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray — against whom he has a combined record of 1-7 at majors (his lone victory came against Federer in last year's Wimbledon semifinals) and 8-32 overall.
"It's funny because, before someone like Milos comes along, you tell someone that you're gonna have a Wimbledon finalist who's No.3 in the world, everyone gets all pumped up," says Andy Roddick. "And once you become a victim of your own success, [the question becomes] what does he need to do differently?"
Roddick and fellow Hall of Famer John McEnroe were in Toronto last week for a tennis circuit event and had some advice for the Canadian:
Keep it simple
Roddick can relate to Raonic's struggles against the Big Four, as the former world No.1 had a lopsided record himself of 3-21 against Federer.
He found it difficult to mentally prepare when he knew his best effort might still fall short.
"It's tough but you've got to simplify it. Literally, you go in and say, 'Listen, I might execute' and I did in a Wimbledon final," recalls Roddick.
"I executed my game plan perfectly for four and a half hours and lost. I was good at compartmentalizing. You might win, you might lose. You're definitely not gonna win if you beat yourself up and psych yourself out about it."
Wear your heart on your sleeve
McEnroe joined Raonic's team as a consultant in May of last year and ended their partnership a couple of months later, just prior to the U.S. Open.
While it's crucial for a player to have faith in his abilities, the seven-time Grand Slam singles champion says the difference between Raonic and Federer or Nadal is more than that.
"You're talking about, to me, the two greatest players that ever lived," says McEnroe. "It's a tall order for anyone. And it appears that both guys want it more than almost any other player, even now after having won 18 and 14 Grand Slams, respectively, and Milos and many others have none."
McEnroe played in an era with legends of its own — Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors.
The New Yorker was famously willing to show his emotions on the court, and while at times it landed him in hot water, he insists it has its benefits.
During their time together, McEnroe encouraged Raonic to throw in a fist pump or loud roar after winning a point as it sends a message to your opponent — you're giving it everything you've got and want to win more than he does.
"I [showed emotion] with Connors a little bit when I came on the [ATP] tour. He's like Nadal. He played every point like it was his last and I looked in the mirror after matches and I said, 'Am I trying as hard as Jimmy Connors?' and most of the time I felt like I wasn't," McEnroe says.
"I think it made me better because I knew I had to do more and I think Milos understands that too. Whether you can do it is a hard thing but he's got some major weapons and I think he can win a couple Slams.
"But he's going to have to dig deeper in his soul, heart and will."
Before Raonic is able to prove that he's got the mindset, he'll need to get physically fit.
The 26-year-old has battled injuries the past couple of seasons, most recently a hamstring strain that forced him to withdraw from last week's Miami Open.
Roddick believes health will be one of the Canadian's biggest hurdles, and from his own experience he says hamstring injuries can take months to properly heal.
"You're kind of at the mercy of your body," says Roddick. "If I'm in [Raonic's] corner, I'm saying, 'Listen, let's get 100 per cent healthy, let's not rush back. We need to be ready when the grass and fast hard courts come in the summer.'"
The Austin, Tex., native broke through at the 2003 U.S. Open to win his only Grand Slam singles title and knows sometimes you need a little luck.
"It's funny, because the ones you win, there's not much in between those and the finals you lose."