Stu Cowan: Milos Raonic Serves Notice on First day of Wimbledon
WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — After Milos Raonic won the first game of his first match at Wimbledon Monday without losing a single point, a fan in the stands said to his young son sitting beside him: “Milos is the man.”
He certainly was.
The 6-foot-5, 216-pound serving machine from Thornhill, Ont., started his match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta with a 138-mph blast that was out. The Canadian, who is ranked No. 7 in the world and seeded sixth here, followed that with a 117-mph serve that Carreno Busta returned long. Then came a 139-mph ace. Then a 115-mph fault, followed by a 131-mph second-serve ace. And finally a 137-mph fault followed by a 128-mph serve that was returned with Raonic winning the point and the game with an overhead smash.
Carreno Busta might have wanted to ask for a helmet — or a hockey goalie’s jockstrap — at that point. He was like a man trying to stop a bullet.
Unfortunately for Raonic, he can’t serve every game and Carreno Busta — who is ranked 46th in the world — fought back before losing the first set 7-6 in a tiebreaker. But that booming serve proved to be too much for Carreno Busta to handle as Raonic won the next two sets 6-2 and 6-4 to advance to the second round, where he will face Italy’s Andreas Seppi, who is ranked No. 45 in the world.
Raonic registered 27 aces Monday, won all 15 of his service games, had 67 of his 94 first serves in (71 per cent) and his fastest serve was 139 mph — 11 mph short of his personal best of 150 mph set last year at Indian Wells.
While top-seeded Novak Djokovic was on Centre Court for his first-round match — a 6-0, 7-6, 6-4 win over Great Britain’s own James Ward — Raonic played on the smaller and more intimate No. 2 Court. It has a capacity of 4,000 — and was more than three-quarters full — and the media sits in the stands with the fans, which is kind of cool.
Sitting five rows up were a couple holding a big Canadian flag on their laps, but most of the fan support during the match was for Raonic’s opponent with chants of “Let’s go Pablo!”
With Raonic leading 3-2 in the first set, John McEnroe showed up wearing a blue suit, dark sunglasses and a New York Mets cap, slipping quietly and mostly unnoticed into a front-row seat in one of the corners. The three-time Wimbledon champion who has been working with Raonic as a coaching consultant must have mostly liked what he saw as his big student came to the net on numerous occasions and had McEnroe on his feet applauding after a couple of points he won with backhand volleys.
McEnroe is working as a television analyst during this fortnight so he won’t have a lot of time to spend tutoring Raonic.
“John is one of the more positive people, especially a contrast to the way he might have been on court,” Raonic said. “That was the thing probably that’s taken me aback the most. He’s very persistent in enforcing the positive things you do well. I think he shows that — he showed that a lot last week and obviously was great for him to — he had the time off, obviously, between matches to come out there and watch and to support.”
Raonic’s match took an hour and 53 minutes to complete and as soon as it was over McEnroe got up and rushed out of the stadium before most fans probably noticed he was even there.
“I’m sure we’ll discuss it later, as well, but it’s good to have him here and that he made that time possible,” Raonic said.
At age 25, Raonic is growing up on and off the court. He has ditched the gallons of hair gel he used to use — which made him look a little bit like Mr. Bean — and in his Wimbledon whites and new hairstyle on this gorgeous, sunny day looked like one of those actors who play tennis instructors in movies. Raonic has become a handsome dude — even if he still walks like one of those big Great Danes growing into their limbs.
Raonic advanced to the third round at Wimbledon last year and is obviously looking to stick around longer than that this time. Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil — the only other Canadian man in singles here — plays his first round match Tuesday against Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas. While Pospisil might be known as “the other Canadian” he made it all the way to the quarter-finals here last year before losing to Andy Murray on Centre Court. Pospisil will be on Court 6 Tuesday.
McEnroe scooted out of the No. 2 court too quickly to be stopped for a comment after Raonic’s match, but it’s obvious the big Canadian needs to continue improving his touch and net play if he wants to beat tennis’s really big boys like Djokovic, who is looking to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a calendar Grand Slam and is the defending champion here.
When asked if he was pleased with his net play Monday, Raonic said: “Yeah, other than when I was sort of getting ahead of myself or not fully focused coming forward. I think I did things well. I came forward. I made it difficult for Carreno out there.”
When a reporter in the interview room suggested to Raonic that his victory was “not good, but good enough,” he responded: “Oh, I thought it was good.”
Good enough to make him “the man” on this day.