KEY BISCAYNE – The last time Canadian Milos Raonic felt healthy from the beginning to the end of a tournament was at Wimbledon. Last summer. Nearly a year ago.
He has managed to maintain his ranking in the top five despite some extended absences in large part due to the fact that when he has played, he’s been successful. But he has failed to finish three of the last six tournament he has played on his own term; the Miami Open is now the latest.
Despite feeling healed up enough from the one-inch tear high up on his hamstring to give it a go, the 26-year-old pulled out of the tournament moments before he was to play American qualifier Jared Donaldson in the third round Sunday.
That gives Donaldson a pass into the fourth round. It sends Raonic back to the drawing board – a board he’s pretty tired of scriblling on.
“It’s related to the previous injury I sustained almost four weeks ago, if not a little more than four weeks ago, in Delray. It’s the same muscle in the hamstring up high. It got progressively worse after my first round, and after practicing yesterday, and it seemed like it was not possible for me to compete today without putting myself at a significant risk,” Raonic said.
He didn’t feel as though he rushed back too quickly. If he wasn’t in peak physical or tennis shape because of the lack of training in recent weeks, it was good enough he thought he could play his way into the tournament.
“I only began to feel issues, – in a match that I didn’t feel was of such high intensity – in my first match (against Viktor Troicki of Serbia). I think it’s just probably my body giving me a warning sign and so forth,” Raonic said.
The 2016 Wimbledon finalist said he hasn’t played a single match healthy from start to finish in seven months. With the clay-court season approaching and a completely different stress put on the leg muscles because of the sliding, Raonic is going to change his approach.
“Obviously the goal through these tournaments, being on hard courts and so forth, was that I could come back as soon as I felt ready. I think that perspective is going to change – to come back when I feel I’m 100 per cent. That could be … who knows in how long. Could be two weeks, could be a little longer. But the ideology behind when I’m back playing matches and competing will be in the sense that that’s the best shape my body can be in.”
Raonic has two full-time people travelling with him to try to keep him healthy. Still, his biggest concern for several years hasn’t been the tennis; it’s always been the health. It’s not as though they haven’t been trying to solve the puzzle.
“We’ve been trying a lot of different things: how many days in a row I’ll train, the kind of exercises I’ll do, and so forth. I’ve been able to get through practice and training sessions where you push, physically-wise, harder than matches. But I think in matches you sort of take out any kind of caution and go out and compete, and that’s where the issues have been coming,” Raonic said. So it’s about finding new methods, and different approaches to get myself as prepared to withstand any kind of strain on my body.”
Raonic has 1,200 ranking points to defend from last year’s Wimbledon final; that’s a tough task. But there’s much more before that: quarter-finals at the major clay-court events in Monte Carlo and Madrid and a final from the Queen’s Club grass-court tuneup tournament. Through the clay and grass seasons, Raonic will have more than 2,000 points to defend, nearly half his current total.
He was ranked a career-high No. 3 after the ATP Tour Finals in London last November. After holding steady at No. 4, he dropped a spot when he missed Indian Wells altogether, and Roger Federer won the tournament.
If Rafael Nadal (who no longer has Raonic in his way as a potential quarter-final opponent) and Kei Nishikori reach the quarter-finals in Miami, both would pass him in the updated rankings next Monday.
Don’t think Raonic hasn’t crunched those numbers in the high-performance Milos super-computer. He has an ambitious clay-court schedule planned that includes the Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo (essentially his second “home” tournament), Madrid and Rome but also, exceptionally, a small tournament in Istanbul that takes place the week before the latter two.
Obviously there would be a nice appearance cheque involved (Raonic is the only top-35 player entered). But playing Istanbul would mean three consecutive weeks of tournaments (two of them the larger-draw Masters events. That goes against the Canadian’s mantra of not playing more than two straight weeks if he can help it – precisely because of the toll it takes on his body.
“I honestly don’t know what is up for me next as far as tournaments go. It’s going to be when my body lets me feel like I’m 100 per cent. It’s not going to be coming back like I did here, or like I have in other tournaments just because I felt like, ‘Well, okay, I’ll get healthier throughout the tournament,’ or the tournament’s a little bit lighter considering the days off here,” he said. “The next goal is just going to be to come back at 100 per cent, whenever that may be. I think that my body is going to let me know when that moment’s right.”