Is Toronto’s great new tennis hope just too tired?
Milos Raonic has been a busy young man since he caught the attention of Canadian tennis fans at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last August. In a little less than a year, the 20-year old appeared in 24 tournaments and a whopping 80 matches, rapidly rising from an unproven commodity to one of the top 30 players in the world. But that momentum came to a grinding halt this week at the French Open. Playing in his first-ever Grand Slam match as a seeded player, Raonic was unceremoniously bounced from the tournament in the first round. While the red clay at Roland Garros is bearing the brunt of the blame for his demise, we can’t help but wonder if the exhaustion of playing nearly a full year’s worth of matches with little to no rest finally caught up to him.
Take, for instance, pre-tournament qualifiers. Until his coming out party at the Australian Open back in January, Raonic was required to compete in a string of qualifying matches in order to secure a spot in the main event draw of any major tourney. “You have to win, generally speaking, 3 more matches [than seeded players],” Tennis Canada’s Hatem McDadi recently told us. “It takes its toll, but the upside is that you play more and gain valuable experience”.
Participation, of course, is one thing, but even a modicum of success in pre-tournament qualifiers can contribute significantly to fatigue—and Raonic clearly had a lot of success. “Milos Raonic was a special case,” the editor of Yahoo! Sports’ Busted Racquet blog Chris Chase said in response to our call. “He was playing qualifiers and then going far into tournaments. He’s young, so he should be able to take the grind. The worry is that he’ll change his game when he gets fatigued and develop bad habits.”
Making matters worse, Raonic opted to put off resting during the preciously short tennis off-season in favour of six weeks of intensive training in Barcelona. He spent six hours a day in the hot sun juggling between on-court and fitness training, as well as physiotherapy.
Of course, the question of young players being overworked isn’t anything new. “For years people thought Rafael Nadal played too much”, Chase continued. “Then he injured his knee and was forced to scale back his schedule. [But Raonic] is young, so he should be able to take the grind.“
Given the year Raonic is having it’s hard to fault him for his French Open failure. Really, we probably shouldn’t have got our hopes up. And there’s always Wimbledon.