In his second year on the ATP World Tour, Milos Raonic has learned the importance of responding when his body is telling him something.
The 21-year-old tennis player has been home this week in Thornhill, Ont., and says his ankle is fine since having treatment. He rolled it training in Florida during the Sony Ericsson Open and pulled out ahead of his third-round match with Andy Murray.
Raonic says it was a tough decision, and he doesn’t make such calls cavalierly. But he vows to do right by his body when it comes to carefully managing a long season.
“We go by one simple thing: Do we think I could do long-term damage by playing on this injury?” the No. 26th-ranked men’s player in the world said by phone this week. “And if we do, I don’t continue playing.
“The pain was getting worse and worse, and I was very limited in my movement and having pain on every step. I had been really looking forward to playing Murray.”
Raonic rolled the ankle practising with coach Galo Blanco, and they didn’t believe it was serious enough at the time to even stop hitting. But within 20 minutes, the ankle was painful and swollen. Later, Raonic and doubles partner Kevin Anderson had to quit after three games against third seeds Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic due to Raonic’s injury.
“Milos would have only been 50, 60 per cent on the ankle, so we didn’t see a reason to risk making it worse by stepping onto the court injured,” Blanco, a Spanish ex-pro, said by phone from Barcelona this week. “But Milos has no serious injuries we’re worried about, and I believe he’s doing everything perfectly.”
The hard-serving Canadian has pulled out of a few events due to injury over the past year.
Last spring, he reached the semi-finals of the Estoril Open before retiring due to a sore back during his match against Fernando Verdasco. At Wimbledon in June of 2011, Raonic slipped awkwardly while facing Gilles Muller, injured his hip and retired from the match. He needed surgery and was out much of the summer.
In February, during a Davis Cup tie with France in Vancouver, Raonic bowed out of his scheduled singles match with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with a knee injury.
However, the 6-foot-5 Canadian is 16-3 in singles matches in 2012, and has picked up two titles. He will return to his training base in Barcelona next week for 10 days of work on clay. His next event will be the Masters in Monte Carlo, which opens first-round play on April 15.
Blanco says Raonic has experienced how strenuous the clay court season is, how long each point takes to play on the surface. They adjusted his clay schedule slightly from last year. He will play only the big tournaments (Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and the French Open), with rest and practice time in between each.
“I feel better physically now than I did this time last season. I burned out during clay season last year,” Raonic said. “This year, I’m able to listen to my body better and maximize my energy, and I’m enjoying things more this time too.”
Tennis Canada announced this week a new ad campaign starring Raonic and aimed at getting more Canadian children into tennis with a simplified version of the sport that teaches using modified racquets, balls and nets. TV commercials will start airing this weekend during the Sony Ericsson Open final.