Go big or go home: Raonic's Wimbledon hopes rest on 2nd serve
Canadian’s junior coach wants him to maximize his biggest weapon
A year ago, Milos Raonic came up just short in his bid to become Canada's first Grand Slam singles tennis champion, losing in straight sets to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final.
Murray's win continued the major-tournament dominance by the sport's "Big Four." A year later, things haven't changed.
Roger Federer won the Australian Open in January for his 18th Grand Slam title, while Rafael Nadal won his 15th by taking the French Open for the 10th time in June.
Raonic vowed to return to the Wimbledon final after losing to Murray, but knows his time may be running out.
The 26-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., heads into Wimbledon as the No. 6 seed but lost his only tune-up match to 698th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis.
That loss doesn't worry Casey Curtis, Raonic's junior coach from age eight to 17, considering the fact that Kokkinakis was ranked as high as No. 69 just two years ago before injuries caused him to plummet down the rankings.
"Kokkinakis wasn't ranked too high because he's been off for a while but he played a really good match against Milos and Milos played pretty well," says Curtis.
"If you look at the stats, it was heavily favoured in Milos's direction. I think he had nine break points and didn't convert on any of them, and Kokkinakis had no break points. So really he lost the wrong points."
While the lack of grass-court play before Wimbledon isn't ideal for Raonic, Curtis is confident that he'll be prepared and perhaps be a little fresher ahead of another potential deep run.
This time around, the world No.7 will be without Carlos Moya and John McEnroe, two prominent figures who have left his coaching staff.
Moya is working with Rafael Nadal while McEnroe has returned to the commentator booth, though he's still providing advice for Raonic from time to time.
Mark Knowles, a long-time doubles partner of Canada's Daniel Nestor, recently joined Raonic's team alongside Ricardo Piatti to try to help him clear the Grand Slam hurdle.
"Milos is always trying to get an edge in one area or the other. Mark was an excellent doubles player. [Milos is] trying to become a little bit more comfortable up at the net. I'm sure that's where Mark is going to come into play," says Curtis.
Raonic's biggest weapon is undoubtedly his serve, and Curtis believes he didn't take full advantage of it in last year's final against Murray.
"I thought he could've served bigger than he did, especially on his second serve. It's something he did in three of his [Wimbledon] matches last year. He averaged around 120 [mph] on his second serve and that's something I've always wanted to see him do," says Curtis.
"I'm hoping he does that throughout the entire tournament. He didn't do it as much against Andy [Murray] in the final. I don't know [if] it was being in the final or whether he just wasn't comfortable in that situation."
Milos Raonic was averaging 22 aces per game. Just the 8 today. Well, he was up against one of the greatest returners of serve. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Wimbledon?src=hash">#Wimbledon</a>—@TopTrevor
Regardless of the opponent, Curtis sees no reason why Raonic shouldn't take more chances and be aggressive on his second serve.
"Milos has the ability to hit second serves with a very high percentage of success. It doesn't really matter if it's Andy Murray or anybody else. I'd like to see him do it on every surface, not just at Wimbledon," says Curtis.
"Last year on the grass, it's the first time I've seen him do it. When you can hit seconds in the 120 [mph] range and only average one double fault a set, you should be doing it all the time."
To complement the speed, Raonic keeps opponents off guard by mixing the direction and spin on his serves while using the same ball toss.
"Quite often with players you can tell by where they're tossing the ball what type of serve they're hitting [and] figure out where they're aiming it," says Curtis.
"But with Milos, he serves out of the same ball toss and so you don't know which serve is coming and where it's going."
Grass courts favour players with big serves because the ball bounces lower while maintaining more of its speed than it does on other surfaces.
But Curtis sees no reason why a player of Raonic's skill set shouldn't be thriving on all surfaces, as evidenced by his success at other Grand Slams.
Talent has never been a question for Raonic as he possesses one of the game's best serves along with elite forehand power from the baseline.
What separates him, and many other players, from the "Big Four" is their ability to keep it together during big moments.
Last year at Wimbledon, the Canadian overcame a two-sets-to-none deficit for the very first time in the fourth round and rallied to defeat seven-time champion Federer in the semis.
Another five-set epic for Roger Federer, but it's Milos Raonic who's celebrating a place in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Wimbledon?src=hash">#Wimbledon</a> final... <a href="https://t.co/PRmBkhuq90">https://t.co/PRmBkhuq90</a>—@Wimbledon
But it was a defeat at this year's French Open that caught Curtis's attention as Raonic fought off six match points — all on Pablo Carreno Busta's serve — before losing.
Have to give Raonic alot of credit for fighting off 6 match points, all were grueling rallys.—@Galloots
"In that match, it wasn't just on the match points against him, it was all the big points. He played them all big. He went for it and I've never seen him do that," recalls Curtis.
"I felt that match was really big for his career going forward. He's learned to play the big points in a bigger way and go for it more."