The numbers tell a story. Milos Raonic has had to withdraw from matches due to injury at three of his last seven tournaments – Beijing and Paris (indoor) last fall and now Delray Beach on Sunday.
He appears to have competent people on his team – fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola and physio Claudio Zimaglia as well as his main coach, Riccardo Piatti, who worked with former world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic during a 15-year pro career when the Croat was relatively injury free.
With him having a reputation for being ultra-thorough about everything related to his tennis, it’s probably foolish to speculate about the reasons for Raonic’s physical problems. He himself has surely been through every possibility searching for answers.
There was an example of that following his 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 loss to Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of this year’s Australian Open when he was affected by an adductor issue that had first surfaced during the Brisbane tournament three weeks earlier. The final question of his media conference at Melbourne Park was about whether he had any explanation for the ongoing fitness woes.
Raonic replied, “I don’t know. I’ve had surgery on that hip. I’m hoping that’s not any reason why I struggled.”
That right hip injury, which occurred when he slipped on damp grass at Wimbledon (above) in the second round in 2011, was traumatic. He had to retire after just five games and about two weeks later had surgery done by Dr. Marc Philppon at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. Philippon, originally from Quebec City, is world-renowned and has operated on the hips of athletes as famous as baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez. His website claims he has “treated close to 1,000 professional and Olympic athletes successfully.”
Raonic had his operation on July 5, 2011, and there was concern at the time because hip surgery is not really something that should be happening to a 20-year-old sportsman. But he was basically back playing like his old self within four months.
He did have a minor issue with his left hip during the French Open last year, but the surgically-repaired right hip has always seemed fine, a testimony to Philippon’s vaunted professional skills.
Regarding Raonic’s suggestion of a connection to the hip surgery, the concern now would be that his ankle injury in Beijing last October, his quadriceps tear during the Paris (indoor) event last November, his adductor problem this year in Australia as well as this latest hamstring issue – all have been to the right leg.
Explaining his withdrawal from the Delray Beach final, which gave the title to Jack Sock, Raonic wrote on his Facebook page, “early in the second set against Juan Martin del Potro yesterday, I ran to one of his drop shots. I felt something and I felt my hip get tight. I woke up this morning not really able to walk. We did about two hours of therapy trying to calm it down and saw it wasn’t making much progress, so we came to the conclusion it was a slight tear to the hamstring.”
He also said, “it’s been three tournaments in a row (Brisbane, Aussie Open and Delray Beach) where I’ve sustained some kind of muscle damage. I’ve been unfortunate with injuries and have been doing everything I can to prevent them.”
A positive outlook on this latest setback for Raonic (above awaiting a Hawk-Eye ruling on the match-ending ace vs. del Potro in the Delray Beach semifinals) would be to recall his grade one quadriceps tear at the Paris event on November 4th last year. He had to withdraw from his semifinal against Andy Murray (allowing the Scot to become No. 1 in the ATP rankings) the following day and was told it would be eight to 10 days before he would be able to play again.
Exactly nine days later he took to the court at the ATP World Tour Finals in London and defeated Gael Monfils on his way to reaching the semifinals and playing one of the greatest matches of 2016 – a three-hour and 38-minute spellbinder that he lost 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) to Murray after holding a match point.
That match, and a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Brisbane event last month when he had basically rendered the Spaniard defenceless with his brute power by match’s end, once again showed the high level of tennis he’s capable of producing against the very best in the world.
While he’s out of this week’s ATP 500 tournament in Acapulco, he should have time to recover for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. The men’s singles starts on Thursday March 9th, but as a seeded player Raonic has an opening-round bye and would not play his first match until Saturday March 11th or Sunday March 12th.
Meticulous as he is, Raonic will surely leave no stone unturned in trying to resolve his injury issues. Just last year, in his ongoing quest to find a better way, he decided to make changes including removing the orthotics from his shoes and using a mouth guard, partly to help with the alignment of his spine.
Looking at the bigger picture, the 2017 season is in its infant stages, so there’s plenty of time for him to turn things around. In the upcoming months, if he can recover and play well at events including Wimbledon and Rogers Cup in Montreal, his current hamstring problem will be a distant memory, just another obstacle he had to overcome on the road to greater success.
The Big Boys Return Four Strong
Roger Federer, above last week with Tomas Berdych in Prague promoting September’s Laver Cup event, is back in action for the first time since winning his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open last month.
On Monday, Federer defeated a semi-hobbling (right ankle) and ornery Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-3 at the ATP 500 tournament in Dubai.
Next for Federer will be Evgeny Donskoy who defeated his Russian compatriot Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday. The 34-year-old Youzhny’s loss at least prevented him from suffering the possibility of yet another, and tie-breaking, loss to Federer.
Here are the current leaders in the dubious category of career head-to-head futility against the great Swiss:
Mikhail Youzhny 0-16
David Ferrer 0-16
Jarkko Nieminen 0-15
Feliciano Lopez 0-12
Also returning in Dubai this week, after apparently recovering from a case of Shingles that may have started during last month’s Australian Open, is top seed Murray.
In Acapulco, Novak Djokovic has taken a surprise wild card to an event he has never played before. He has 1,000 points to defend at each of the upcoming ATP 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami and may be trying to buy some insurance against future losses.
He has a tough draw that starts with Martin Klizan and could include Juan Martin del Potro in the second round, Nick Kyrgios in the quarter-finals, Dominic Thiem in the semifinals and Rafael Nadal in the final. Nadal has played Acapulco before, in 2005 and 2013. But that was when it was a clay-court event.
Andreescu Moving Up
Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who doesn’t turn 17 until June 16th, won the second ITF $25,000 tournament of her career on Sunday, defeating American Kayla Day 6-1, 6-4 in the final in Rancho Santa Fe, California.
It was a kind of revenge for Andreescu who had lost 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, while carrying an injury, to the 17-year-old Day in the US Open junior semifinals last September.
The title in Rancho Santa Fe for the No. 277-ranked Andreescu comes after her win at the $25,000 ITF event in Gatineau, Que., last August.
With the 50 points she received for being the champion, Andreescu’s WTA ranking will rise to about No. 235. Comparisons are always dangerous but, when she was 16, Genie Bouchard ended the year with a ranking of No. 538. It’s hard to imagine Andreescu, as long as she stays healthy, not breaking into the top 200 soon and being able to play the play the qualifying for events like Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open – if she so chooses.
Canadians on Tour This Week
— Abierto Mexicano (@AbiertoTelcel) February 27, 2017
Genie Bouchard, above hamming it up with Juan Martin del Potro in Acapulco, plays her first event since a third-round loss to Coco Vandeweghe at the Australian Open on January 20. She will face Ajla Tomljanovic, the 23-year-old Croat now living in Australia (and also Nick Kyrgios’ girlfriend) who has been out of action following shoulder surgery since the 2016 Aussie Open. She currently has no ranking but was as high as No. 47 in 2015.
There will be two 23-year-olds on court on Tuesday at about 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET in Canada) because Bouchard celebrated a birthday last Saturday.
She’s playing doubles with Kirsten Flipkins who she could face in singles in the second round. In the quarter-finals she might then play second seed Kristina Mladenovic.
In men’s doubles at this week’s ATP 500 event in Dubai, Daniel Nestor and regular partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin are seeded third and on Tuesday defeated the Irish wild card pairing of James McGee and Davis O’Hare 6-1, 6-1 in the first round.
Denis Shapovalov is the No. 2 seed at this week’s $25,000 Gatineau Futures event in Quebec across the Ottawa River from Canada’s capital city.
Now ranked No. 250, Shapovalov, 17, will start out against a qualifier Nathaniel Lammons of the U.S. in the first round on Tuesday while 16-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime, No. 511, will play No. 1115-ranked compatriot Pavel Krainik, 24, on Wednesday.
Also in the field are No. 352 Philip Bester and No. 518 Filip Peliwo.
The top seed is No. 253 Gleb Sakharov of France.
On Monday, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime (above) won an opening-round doubles match 7-6(1), 6-4 over top seeds Isak Arvidsson of Sweden and Frederik Nielsen of Denmark. Nielsen, 33, won the 2012 Wimbledon doubles title with Jonathan Marray of the UK.
In this week’s ATP rankings out on Monday, Peter Polansky, 28, equalled his career–best ranking of No. 122 first reached on September 8, 2014.
NOTE: Next week’s Tebbutt Tuesday from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells will be posted in the evening.
Top Picture Credit: Art Seitz