It was just over a year ago that Milos Raonic’s meteoric rise and blast of 6 straight wins in Melbourne turned heads in the big time sports media in Canada. It was a winter morning in January where one journalist on TSN’s (one of Canada’s major sports networks) The Reporters asked another “did you see this coming?” and he aptly replied “honestly? No I didn’t.”
There are a lot of stereotypes about Canadians out there. In fact, most of them are so bad that Canadians themselves aren’t even aware that they exist. No, we don’t say “aboot”. No, it doesn’t snow everywhere, all the time, and yes we can get summers that are indeed quite hot. However, yes, hockey is far and away the most important sport in this country.
Hockey permeates the culture regardless of the time of year. The NHL season is a long 82 games with four rounds of playoffs that last into the summer. Once that ends, it is nice enough to play ball hockey outside with your friends. With hockey so popular and baseball, basketball and football taking up a lot of consistent air time, tennis does not get nearly the same publicity as it does in the United States or Europe.
We Canadians love our home grown heroes, and we love to talk about them. Suddenly it has become impossible for the sports networks to ignore tennis. Raonic has already won two titles this year, Chennai and San Jose, and looks poised to crack the top 20 by year’s end, at the very latest. He is already the greatest Canadian male singles player, and he is still getting better.
Raonic’s exhibition match against his idol Pete Sampras in the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto (home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors) points towards the potential he has to become a household Canadian name, particularly with the backing of his main sponsor SAP.
“I really wanted to do an exhibition in Canada. Canada is my home; I’ve been here since I was three years old,” said Raonic, prior to his match against Sampras. “It’s really something special for me to be the best of all time in Canada, but for me another part another part of the responsibility is to help tennis grow [in Canada]. And kids do see how successful Canada is in hockey and I don’t think there’s any difference why we can’t be that way in tennis. I think we just need somebody to show them the light.”
Injury at Wimbledon considerably damaged Raonic’s season last year, but after a successful winter training in Barcelona with coach Galo Blanco, he looks poised to have the best year of his life. Improvements have been made in all aspects of his game, particularly his movement and first shot after the serve. Even his devastating first serve (that earned him “Missile Milos”, one of many nicknames) has already seen him clock a 155mp/h ace in San Jose. The fastest serve record was 155mp/h tossed up by Andy Roddick until it was broken by none other than Ivo Karlovic last year by a mere mile.
Having already defended his San Jose title and Memphis points, the only way to go is up in the rankings. Tennis, say hello to Canada. We might be here to stay.