An aching left hip contributed to Milos Raonic unceremoniously bowing out of the 2016 French Open to unseeded Alert Ramos-Vinolas. But the real story surrounding the Canadian was the unexpected announcement that John McEnroe would be joining his coaching staff. Yes, that same tantrum-throwing John McEnroe who battled contemporary foes such as Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. So if we take a step back and really look at this pairing, we now have one of the most reserved and quiet tennis players in Raonic (that’s right, even his hair doesn’t move when he plays) to be coached by McEnroe, one of the most volatile players (some umpires are still afraid of him) to play the game.
McEnroe joins the current coaching staff of Carlos Moya and Riccardo Piatti. The recent trend for players, top ranked Novak Djokovic included, is to have a team of coaches rather than just one. The more the merrier it seems as long as everyone can get along. Raonic was asked about this very fear by the National Post to which he responded, “At the end of the day, every coach I have is to some extent an advisor. And it’s my job personally, out of everything I hear, to weigh what it’s worth and weigh what is best for me. I’m the CEO of the Milos Raonic Tennis.” On the positive side of things, McEnroe and Raonic play very similar styles and therefore the new coach believes he can show the youngster how to best use his attributes.
Raonic has already gone further than any other Canadian in the modern era of tennis including breaking into the Top 10(as high as 4th in May 2015), reaching the semi-final of 2 Grand Slam events and even pushing Team Canada to the semi-finals of the Davis Cup. All are great accomplishments, but all pale in comparison to what the Big Three of the tennis world have done. (OK, technically it’s the Big Four, but I didn’t include Andy Murray because he isn’t even close to double digit Slam victories as the others.)
Beating the Big Three, above anything else is the reason why hiring John McEnroe is worth the risk. Playing at that high a level requires a certain mindset. Raonic has the physique and skill to be competitive but his 3-23 record against them suggests that whatever is lacking, may be more of both his mental preparedness and stamina. As unstable as McEnroe seemed on the court when he played, his mental focus and toughness carried him to victory after victory. Can you teach someone that kind of toughness? Let’s hope so because despite that horrendous record, Raonic isn’t that far away from beating Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Raphael Nadal.
Since 2003 when Federer won the first of his 7 Wimbledon titles, there have been 52 Grand Slam events. The trinity have combined to win 43 (82.7%) of them. In the mid-2000s, it was Federer who dominated and now holds the record for most (17) Grand Slam titles. Then for a period of time it was Nadal (14) that looked undefeatable. Recently, Djokovic (12) is the unstoppable one as he currently holds all four slam titles which only 2 other men have ever done. To truly understand how dominant this trio has been, you must realize that despite playing in the same era, the three of them are in the top five of all time slam victories.
Although they each have won on every surface, they do have their preferences. Federer seems to love grass winning 7 Wimbledon’s; Djokovic likes the hard court down under winning 6 Australian Opens and nobody, nobody holds a candle to Nadal when it comes to the French Open’s clay having won an unbelievable 9 times there. Honestly, the only person Nadal has really lost to at Roland Garros is his own failing body. Injuries once again forcing him to withdraw in 2016.
So McEnroe has a very difficult task ahead of him, but not an impossible one. Federer is nearing the end of his career, Nadal’s body may never be 100% and with Djokovic, well, there is always a chance he takes up golfing instead. But given enough time McEnroe may be able to provide Raonic with that little extra that is needed to break through this holy trinity. What a day it would be for him and Canada to finally hoist a Grand Slam trophy.
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