Milos Raonic heard from many back home in Canada how his tennis celebrity was growing. He got a sense of it while checking in on Twitter.com during his whirlwind three months travelling on the ATP tour. But he didn't fully breathe it in until he came home.
It was a well-earned but fleeting visit to Thornhill, Ont., this week for the 20-year-old rising tennis star, who left in early 2011 ranked No. 156 in the world and played his way to No. 34 - becoming the highest-ranked Canadian male singles player in history.
After three days hanging out at home with his parents and his girlfriend, Raonic taped an interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge and sat courtside at Wednesday's Toronto Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre, where he lobbed tennis balls to fans.
Before leaving for Barcelona to prepare for his clay court season, the 6-foot-5 phenom spoke at a packed press conference at a Lacoste apparel boutique in Toronto on Thursday, still tanned from the sun-baked courts of Miami and Indian Wells, Calif., yet fresh-faced from a restful week at home.
"Home has been an experience - something different from anything I've experienced before," said Raonic, who also posed for a Lacoste photo shoot. "The last two or three days have been really special. Seeing what kind of an impact this has really made."
Raonic grabbed the attention of opponents and commentators with his booming serve and poise, running to the fourth round at the Australian Open, earning his first ATP tournament title in San Jose, another appearance in a final in Memphis, and a Davis Cup win for Canada over Mexico.
But the modest and optimistic young star also admitted he's experiencing many of these things for the first time, and his body was starting to feel the grind of the tour toward the end of the three-month spell.
"I'm trying to keep up this level at a consistent rate, I don't want to just do it in flashes," Raonic said. "I can't say I've felt the pressure too much. It's nice to have that kind of attention. The main thing is just not letting it go to your head because people can say lots of things, but you have to prove it."
Raonic's mini-break comes just after experiencing the main draw of two Masters 1000 tournaments. He was eliminated by 18-year-old American Ryan Harrison in the third round at Indian Wells, and then lost his opening-round match in Miami to Somdev Devvarman of India.
"With the new ranking, I had a different respect in the locker room," Raonic said. "There were Canadian snowbirds there cheering for me as loud as those cheering for the American players. Now, I go to the practice courts, and instead of five people showing up, there is a lot of pride in seeing 100 show up, and many tell me they are from Canada."
Raonic's next ATP tournament will be the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in mid-April. From there, he will return to Spain for the Barcelona Open.