Like Nick Kyrgios, Canadian Milos Raonic has made a stuttering start on his return to the ATP Tour having overcome a shopping list of injuries in recent times.
Raonic, who has basically been unsighted for the last two years, won his return match against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in emphatic fashion to notch his 50th grass court win at the Libéma Open last week.
Unfortunately, Raonic’s return was short-lived and the hulking 32-year-old, after losing in the second round, subsequently withdrew from the Cinch Championships at The Queens Club in England where he was scheduled to play the following week.
The former world number three and 2016 Wimbledon finalist has, outside of Canada, largely been a forgotten man in recent times having only played only five tournaments since January 2021.
Speaking to the press after his 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kecmanovic , Raonic, who looked particularly trim, revealed there were times he considered throwing in the towel.
“Many times I didn’t even want to bother trying, because I was so far away from it,” he said.
“There were moments when I said, ‘I’m done’. At the end of 2021, I had no intention to play again, [I thought] ‘I’m going to figure out my life’, shortly after I got married.
“One thing I did learn, which is a nice lesson, is life will be okay after tennis, which is kind of a fear because you put so much time into one thing and a singular skill.”
Having successfully hit the ground running, Raonic then came up against a stubborn Jordan Thompson who, in the midst of a rich vein of form, would not be denied by the Serbian-born Raonic to run away with the match 7-6, 6-1.
Ironically, it was again Thompson who Raonic was due to play before his withdrawal the following week at Queens.
Speaking to Canadian journalist Stephen Boughton of The Slice, Boughton revealed that Raonic’s Canadian fans were desperate to see the return of their greatest-ever male tennis export.
“It caught me a little by surprise” Boughton disclosed.
“You never know what’ll happen when coming back from such a long time off. We’ve seen it with many players. I remember when Djokovic came back in 2018 at Indian Wells after surgery and he said he was so nervous. And he’d won twelve slams by that point! So no matter who you are in tennis, it can be tough.
“Milos looked very confident. It was good to see.
“[The Canadian public] always hoped to see him back.
“He’s had a huge impact on tennis in Canada. He was the one player that kids looked up to and helped them realise if you can do well in Canada you can do well on the world stage”
At this point, whether Raonic will play at Wimbledon remains unknown. His provisional ranking will allow him access to the main draw however whether his body will come to the party is altogether another matter.
Raonic himself however has shared that it’s no coincidence he made his return on his beloved grass courts as he has willed himself to play at Wimbledon at least one more time.
“It was very intentional [to come back on grass]. Wimbledon means the most to me, and I haven’t played it since 2019,” said Raonic when speaking to the ATP website.
“I’ll play it one more time. I don’t know what will happen after that, but I’ll play it one more time. It’s also Toronto this year. I grew up 10 minutes from the stadium, that’s another one that’s important to me. I like the idea that I’ll play those at least one more time
“Somebody would have to tell me that I’m risking a lot more than just an athletic future for me not to play those two events one more time.”
It will likely be a ‘wait and see’ path forward for Raonic who has a history of bad luck in recent times. The Canadian had to overcome a broken toe thanks to a dropped gym weight, a calf tear, and COVID-19 all after having initially overcome his achilles injury.
Only time will tell whether Raonic can recapture his best tennis, however, Boughton is optimistic that Raonic could return to the peak of his powers as his game was evolving in the right direction prior to his long injury layoff.
“When he was playing well prior to his injury, Raonic was evolving his game to be a much better mover”, Boughton opined.
“He could beat 95% of the tour by blowing them off the court with his serve and forehand prior to that but he was rarely beating the top guys. Then he started to focus on being a better mover. Notably, his backhand up the line improved.
“He evolved his game in a good way. His game was more dynamic than when he first came on tour for sure. I think he can come back and have a big impact.
“But it could be a short-term comeback. Maybe he was setting his expectations low. It takes a lot for these big guys to get going again. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting them ready.
“He’ll play Toronto later this year but otherwise I guess we’ll take it tournament by tournament.”