“It hasn’t been fun the last seven months, I haven’t played one tournament from start to finish healthy,” Milos Raonic said Sunday at a media conference after pulling out of his Miami Open match against American qualifier Jared Donaldson. “My goal for this tournament was to at least finish it healthy. I guess this is the closest at this point that I could.”
There was pain and frustration in those words and it’s not hard to understand – he has been battling one issue or another going back to last year’s US Open. It might go even further back because he later replied to a question about the last tournament when he felt “100 per cent physically good from start to finish” with a one word answer, “Wimbledon.”
A withdrawal by Raonic was all too familiar for his fans and was caused by a recurrence of the right hamstring tear that forced him to give Jack Sock a walkover in the final of the Delray Beach ATP 250 event on February 26. “It got progressively worse after my first round (Viktor Troicki) and after practicing yesterday,” he explained Sunday. “It seemed like it was not possible for me to compete today without putting myself at significant risk.”
There was also a story on the ATP website last Tuesday after his media availability (pictured at top). Here’s what was written, “by Raonic’s count, the injury in Delray Beach marked the ninth consecutive tournament in which he’s battled an injury or an illness of some kind.”
“Some more significant than others but I just try to put my head down, try to make the right choices when I can and try to get better each week,” Raonic said.
Here are the tournaments he has played dating back seven months – with the known physical issues in brackets.
US Open: Won one match lost second round to Ryan Harrison [cramps].
St. Petersburg: Bye, lost first match to Mikhail Youzhny.
Beijing: Won three matches, withdrew semi-final v Grigor Dimitrov [right ankle].
Shanghai: Bye, won one match lost third round to Jack Sock.
Basel: Lost first round to Ricardas Berankis.
Paris (Bercy): Bye, won three matches withdrew semi-finals v Andy Murray [right quad].
London ATP Finals: 2-1 in round robin and lost semi-finals to Andy Murray.
Brisbane: Bye, won two matches lost semi-finals to Dimitrov [right adductor].
Australian Open: Won four matches lost quarter-finals to Rafael Nadal [right adductor].
Delray Beach: Won four matches withdrew from final v Sock [right hamstring].
Miami: Bye, won one match withdrew third round v Jared Donaldson [right hamstring].
Those 11 events include four where Raonic apparently faced injuries or other issues of some sort that were not on the record.
The one thing all those tournaments have in common is that they were played on hard courts. That contrasts with the next four months, beginning Monday, April 3 after the Miami Open finishes. From that point until late July the only tournaments Raonic will play will be on either clay or grass – two surfaces that are easier on the body than hard courts.
His impressive run to the Wimbledon final a year ago should give him more confidence when he gets onto the grass for the Queen’s Club tournament in mid-June.
Discussing his thoughts about returning from injury, and in particular the one that forced with to pull out in Miami, Raonic said, “I think that the perspective is going to change to come back when I feel like I’m 100 per cent. So that could be who knows how long? That could be in two weeks. That could be a little bit longer.”
For all the second guessers about his fitness routine and training, Raonic is probably a quadruple guesser or even more. He’s continually trying to find better ways to optimize his fitness along with his widely-respected fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola. “We’ve been trying a lot of different things,” Raonic said. “We have been trying things from how many days in a row I’ll train to the kind of exercises I’ll do and so forth.”
“I’ve been able to get through practices and training sessions where you push and push, I would say physically-wise, harder than matches. But I think in matches you sort of take out any kind of caution and you just go out and compete.”
“That’s where the issues have been coming. Haven’t been having issues of getting hurt in practices and so forth. It’s about really finding maybe new methods and
approaches just to keep myself or get myself as prepared to withstand any kind of strain on my body.”
Raonic’s next scheduled event is the Monte Carlo Open, in the principality where he officially resides, beginning on April 16.
He trains much of the year in Monte Carlo so that would be a very convenient place to make his comeback. And the fact that he can now use clay and then grass as an ally in his attempt to get fit again is a reason for optimism among Raonic supporters in these tough times.
With a career record of 10-6 on the red clay at the Monte Carlo Country Club, the event has been his best of the three European (also Madrid and Rome) ATP Masters 1000 tournaments that lead into Roland Garros. It could be the ideal place for him to make a healthy re-start to the 2017 season.
BOUCHARD HITS THE SKIDS
Genie Bouchard’s 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 loss to Ashleigh Barty at the Miami Open last week was her fourth in a row dating back to the third round (Coco Vandeweghe) at the Australian Open in January.
Bouchard was just too erratic – 55 unforced errors – against the No. 91-ranked Barty who described her own performance as “scratchy.”
Clearly Bouchard has the lost the momentum that she built up through strong showings in Sydney and at the Australian Open in January, but there are no options now except to get back into action as she will at the WTA International Series event in Monterrey, Mexico next week.
The top four players are slated to be No. 17-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 18 Kristina Mladenovic, No. 40 Monica Puig and No. 41 Lesia Tsurenko, with the No. 56-ranked Bouchard seeded between No. 5 and No. 8 in the 32-player at the hard-court tournament.
Following Monterrey, Bouchard will have to switch to clay – she’s entered in the Istanbul, Turkey, event the week of April 24 – the same week Maria Sharapova will be making her return at the WTA Premier tournament in Stuttgart. Looking further ahead, it would appear she could play International Series events the following week in Rabat (Morocco) or Prague. Then, leading up to the French Open, with her current ranking, she’s borderline and may have to play qualifying for the Premier Mandatory in Madrid and the Premier 5 in Rome.
Despite her first round loss in Miami, Bouchard should remain close to her current ranking of No. 56 in next week’s new rankings.
EVOLVING SHAPOVALOV IMPRESSES
It has been a remarkable four weeks for Denis Shapovalov – three finals and two titles in a four-week span. And all this is happening before his 18th birthday on April 15.
He won the ITF Futures event in Gatineau, had to withdraw from the semi-final of the Futures in Sherbrooke with illness, won the Challenger title in Drummondville and last Sunday lost in the final the Challenger tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
There were adjustments to make in Guadalajara on top of the travel from Quebec – including going from indoors (Drummondville) to outdoors as well as getting used to the altitude. The city of more than four million is a mile above sea level.
The $50,000 Challenger was indeed a challenge for the No. 194-ranked Shapovalov as he played through three long three-set matches – 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 over No. 189-ranked Akira Santillan of Japan in the first round, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 over No. 415 Lloyd Glasspool of Britain in the quarter-finals and 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) over tempestuous Jerzy Janowicz, No. 183, in the semi-finals. While his second round match – a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Vasek Pospisil – was less competitive, it was nonetheless emotionally difficult because he has always looked up to his 26-year-old fellow-Canadian.
Shapovalov was beaten 6-4, 6-4 in the Guadalajara final by No. 214 Mirza Basic. The 25-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina was simply the more consistent player on the day and deserved the second Challenger title of his career. It probably didn’t help Shapovalov that he had to come back and play in the day after his draining semi-final the previous evening against Janowicz. Basic had played his semi-final in the afternoon.
In all Shapovalov’s match record was 17-2 over four events in four weeks, and he also played five doubles matches (with Félix Auger-Aliassime) over that period.
The highlight may well have been the win over Janowicz. The 6-foot-8 Pole ranked as high as No. 14 in 2013, the year he reached the Wimbledon semi-finals and pushed Andy Murray to four sets.
His career has been plagued by injuries – back (2013), foot (2014) and knee (2016) – but he’s capable of playing at a very high level and Shapovalov did well to remain calm amid the Janowicz storm, which included a warning from the umpire for his language, a point penalty for bashing a ball high into the stands and a game penalty to 3-0 in the second set for another ball abuse incident that the umpire deemed “dangerous.”
Here are highlights of Shapovavlov versus the explosive Janowicz:
In the third set the match became highly competitive and basically all about holding serve, with Janowicz saving a break point in the opening game and Shapovalov saving a match point at 4-5 with a serve-and-forehand-volley that forced a missed passing shot by Janowicz.
After falling behind 2-1 in the decisive tiebreak, Shapovalov immediately struck back to get two mini-breaks thanks to big hitting off the forehand side. He never looked back and won it 7-4.
It was good to see him contest a line call on the third point of the tiebreak because against a temperamental opponent like Janowicz, who monopolizes all the ‘air’ in the match, a player has to stand up for his rights and not always be passive.
Shapovalov continues his busy schedule this week – playing the $75,000 Challenger event in Leon, Mexico. He faces a qualifier in his opening match and then would play either top seed (No. 91) Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic or American Denis Novikov.
The No. 119-ranked Pospisil is the No. 3 seed. He starts out against Santillan then would meet either John-Patrick Smith of Australia or a qualifier.
Both Pospisil and Shapovalov will play their first matches on Wednesday.
With his runner-up finish in Guadalajara, Shapovalov’s ranking should rise from No. 194 to about No. 172, another career high.
ROGER’S WAYS OF PARTING
Roger Federer appears to have changed the side he parts his hair on. In the picture on the left here from after his Australian Open victory in January, his hair is parted on the right. The picture on the right is from Indian Wells before the BNP Paribas Open began earlier this month – there it’s on the left.
Judging from his winning ways in Melbourne and in Indian Wells, it certainly doesn’t seem to have affected his play.
Feature image by: Mauricio Paiz