Milos Raonic has Andy Murray in his sights
Milos Raonic serves to James Blake during their men's singles match at the U.S. Open in New York, N.Y., Sept. 1, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters)
Milos Raonic knows he got lucky at the U.S. Open.
He could just as easily be watching the year's final Grand Slam on TV like the rest of us, not trying to go deeper in one of the big four tournaments than any other Canadian in recent memory.
Raonic, seeded 15th at the U.S. Open, was down a set and a break in the fourth during his first-round meeting with unseeded Santiago Giraldo of Colombia last week before storming back to win the marathon matchup.
It wasn't pretty, but that comeback win -- he was teetering on the brink of an embarrassing first-round loss -- seemed to be the kick in the pants Raonic needed.
"I was lucky to get by that first one," Raonic said of his win over Giraldo Sunday during a conference call. "It was a little bit of fortune he got a bit tired and tight. I was fortunate to find my way out of that. I definitely struggled early in the tournament. After that, everything else seemed to be easy.
"Then I got better in the second round and I felt I started to play really well. (The confidence) is definitely building up at the same time as my game. I'm doing more and more things I want to be doing and my serve's helping me a lot with that."
Since nearly bowing out, the Thunder from Thornhill has again found his booming serve and winning form. He reeled off 59 aces in straight-set wins over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France and American James Blake to become the first Canadian since Martin Laurendeau in 1988 to make it into the fourth round at the U.S. Open.
Raonic will play Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray in an intriguing fourth-round showdown Monday, with the winner moving into the quarterfinals. It's the next chapter in what seems to be a budding rivalry between the two young stars.
"I think I'm just going to have to really go for it, go after him, and try to control as much as I can," Raonic said. "I think on the hard-court I'll have more opportunities to do so, and I feel if I do that and I serve well then I'll definitely have my opportunities."
The 21-year-old Canadian has only met Murray once on court -- Raonic beat him on clay in Barcelona last April; two other matches in 2012 were scuttled when one pulled out due to injury -- but you get the sense they could be butting heads for years to come.
Murray, the No. 3 seed at the U.S. Open, knows he will have his hands full with Raonic, who has a tournament-leading 89 aces and is second to John Isner in fastest serve speed at 143 mph, serving well again.
"He has a huge serve," Murray said after struggling to eliminate Feliciano Lopez in five sets, three that ended in tiebreaks. "He's improved a lot from the back of the court. He goes for his second serve, as well. You know, he can serve some double (faults) but also get free points from his second serve, too. But, yeah, this is his best year on the tour so far and it will be tough.
"I think he obviously has the potential (to win Slams). When you have big, big weapons, that obviously helps. He's gaining experience all the time. Yeah, he's definitely going to be dangerous."
Raonic will likely fight some nerves against Murray. The two are expected to play in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the venue's main court, and Raonic will be playing for his first quarterfinal appearance in a Grand Slam.
"I think it will be up there," Raonic said of the magnitude of the match. "The fact that it's a Grand Slam adds a little bit more to it. At the same time, it's sort of a situation I feel very comfortable in. So it puts everything aside. I know I can create my opportunities. I know what I'm capable of, I know what I can do. I just have to really step up and do it."
RAONIC BELIEVES HE BELONGS
Milos Raonic has a long way to go before he catches his tennis idol, Pete Sampras, in career Grand Slam titles.
So far it's a whitewash -- Sampras 14, Raonic 0.
The Canadian sensation believes it's only a matter of time before he gets on the board and wins that first major title. But, geez people, give him time, will ya.
"This is, what, my eighth Grand Slam?" Raonic said after advancing to the fourth round of the U.S. Open. "I'm pretty new to this. It's my second time here. First time, (it was a) big difference going through quallies. It's something I really want to achieve, so I do get frustrated with myself over that.
"At the same time I got to take the previous seven and these three matches so far, learn as much as I can. Pretty much every experience is a new one. Just try to deal with it the best I can in the moment."
If Raonic wants this U.S. Open to be his first Grand Slam title, he'll need to get past Andy Murray in the Round of 16 on Monday. But there's no question he believes it can be done.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable being here if I wasn't," he said. "I've done my work. I don't think not belonging is the question. I think it's more so a question of I haven't been there before, haven't earned my way there before. Doesn't mean I don't belong. I think it's just more I haven't made the most of my opportunities before."
And there's no better time like the present when opportunity comes knockin'.