Milos Raonic is finding previous experiences in the art of patience and perseverance are holding him in good stead in his return to competition, following the ATP Tour’s COVID-19 hiatus. No stranger to the stop-start curve balls of injury setbacks, the Canadian came out firing from the off in his first event in six months at the Western & Southern Open.
The former World No. 3 won his first five matches to reach his fourth ATP Masters 1000 final, before top seed Novak Djokovic edged him in three sets. Despite an early second-round departure to countryman Vasek Pospisil at the US Open, Raonic quickly turned his focus to a reduced clay-court swing.
“First match was up and down, but everybody’s on the same thing,” Raonic told ATP Uncovered of his ATP Tour return. “For me, the benefit of being hurt many times before [is that] I’ve started from nothing a bunch of times. I’ve been through this rhythm every six months… so I knew what I had to focus on, to get the best of me as quickly as possible.”
Raonic’s run at the Western & Southern Open lifted him back to No. 18 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, his first time in the Top 20 since 12 August last year. It was his first event since he fell in the semi-finals of the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com (l. to Opelka) in February, and there was little rust to be seen as he brushed aside Sam Querrey, Dan Evans and Andy Murray without dropping a set.
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In the quarter-finals he saved a match point to eke out a narrow win against Filip Krajinovic. Then, in the semi-finals, he landed his second upset over Stefanos Tsitsipas this season, having also beaten the Greek en route to the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.
“I worked hard in this time off we had,” Raonic said. “I’m thankful things are coming together a lot quicker than I expected, but there wasn’t a lack of trying. So far there’s a lot to be pleased with, and I hope it’s something I can make the most of for a long time coming.”
The most notable difference in the US was the absence of crowds, which made for a setting more akin to a training session behind closed doors. It did not diminish the importance of matches for Raonic.
“There’s still nerves that come with it,” he said. “You’re not sure how you’re going to step out and play that first match, that first set, that first game.
“There’s a lot that can go wrong quickly, but you just focus on yourself and understand the other guy could be on the same ship as you and try to control the little things as much as possible. I just put in a lot of hard work and I think it allowed every single aspect of my game to improve just a bit. I hope it continues improving.”
Raonic is the No. 13 seed at this week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He will team up with compatriot, #NextGenATP star Felix Auger Aliassime, in doubles before he begins his 15th Roland Garros campaign.