Milos Raonic arrived for his first Olympics at London’s bustling Heathrow Airport on Tuesday, met by reporters and a certain unmistakable buzz in the air.
Off a short flight from Barcelona, his home training base, the 21-year-old Canadian tennis star hung his new Olympic athlete credential around his neck and looked around at the colourful London 2012 signage and pageantry that has taken over the airport.
Although he would like to mentally prepare for the Olympic tournament like he would any other big tennis event, the native of Thornhill, Ont. acknowledged the spectacle of the Games hit him as soon as he arrived.
“I do try to neutralize it and make it just another match,” said Raonic, who was at the airport with his coach, Spanish ex-pro Galo Blanco. “But it’s not just tennis here, there is a lot of athletic greatness all around me.”
The world’s No. 25-ranked singles player said he plans to walk in Friday’s opening ceremony, and while he doesn’t know any other Canadian athletes, he’s also excited about the novelty of staying in the athlete’s village. He admitted to being crazy about FIFA video games and said although he’s a pro athlete, he looks forward to the friendly competitions and pastimes that go with hanging out in the athlete’s village.
The 6-foot-5 player said he sought the advice of famous Canadian pro athletes and past-Olympians like Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky about what it’s like to represent Canada at an Olympics.
“They told me to soak up as much of the experience as I can,” said Raonic, before Blanco whisked him away to a shuttle bus. “To get to know many of the other athletes and take it all in.”
He’s also hoping for a chance meeting somewhere in London with some members of the U.S. basketball team, whom he has been following closely, especially NBA mega-stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He attended one of the team’s recent exhibition games and has been Tweeting about the team.
Raonic has been in Barcelona training since July 19 after two early tournament exits. He took a Round of 16 loss to Benjamin Becker at Newport, just after his Round of 64 loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon. Despite the recent disappointing finishes, he insisted he’s totally healthy.
He said he trained on hard-courts in Barcelona, despite the fact that the Olympic tournament will take place on grass at Wimbledon. His hard-court season starts immediately after the Olympics, with Toronto’s Rogers Cup.
“It’s an honour to be here,” said Raonic. “I’m playing under my own name but here, I’m also playing for Canada.”
Men’s singles play begins at the Olympics on July 28.