The two negotiated the rules and the punishment that the drill’s loser should suffer. They worked on expert placement, managed points strategically and argued vehemently over whether balls dusted the sideline or drifted out. They accused one another of cheating, screamed and cheered triumphantly, and jibed one another like ultracompetitive pros and a pair of old buddies at the same time. Both sweating and arguing the score to the bitter end of the drill, they agreed to do the punishment together: pushups. The drill was aimed at helping Raonic confidently control opponents with his volleys.
“Of course he still blows up to me sometimes, but I like this, because in Spain we say, if you have milk in your veins instead of blood, you’re not going to be a champion,” Blanco said. “Last season was really his first entire year non-stop on Tour with no injuries, and he got really tired. So in 2013, if he gets burned out in September – so tired he thinks he can’t play any more – he’ll know how to deal with it. Those top guys are not 22, but Milos is. It comes with experience.”
Estalella designed a heavy off-court training schedule that had Raonic doing 36 physical sessions against just six days of rest over the five weeks. Some 60 per cent of the work was focused on building his strength, including his 15 different weight-training sessions (two more than last year).
They spent 23 per cent of the time on resistance training, 11 per cent on speed and agility and 6 per cent on preventing injuries, particularly preserving the shoulders, back and hips involved in that lethal serve so integral to his success. With a thick elastic resistance band fastened around his ankles, Raonic often laid on his side and pulsed the legs open and closed to work the hips, especially the one he had surgically repaired after a gruesome-looking fall on the grass at Wimbledon in 2011.
Many of his days included various types of running – some sprint training, some building extra aerobic capacity for work on clay, some long jogs with Ozón, who dabbles in competitive trail marathons, so the pace was swift.
They spent a lot of time on an indoor track at a national training centre for high-performance Spanish athletes. Estalella leafed through an impressive binder that holds every detail of the plans to strengthen Raonic’s body – long-term schedules, goals, exercise diagrams, and stats charting his progress.
“See their foot speed?” Estalella said, pointing to some Spanish track and field athletes sprinting in adjacent lanes. “Fast, like a cat. I want that for Milos.”
“The workouts got harder each week, but the physical tolerance improves and I feel myself getting quicker,” Raonic said. “The guys around me are not just thinking about me 9-to-5 – they care. When you have that kind of belief and feeling about the people around you, you don’t doubt the work, even when it’s exhausting and you sometimes don’t feel like doing it. I believe they are the guys who can help me become the best.”