By Ben Fisher, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
TORONTO -- Milos Raonic has yet to win a main-draw match at the Rogers Cup, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of attention he has received heading into his hometown Masters Series event.
Canada is anxious to welcome its rising young star home. Raonic headlines a national marketing campaign for the event, and his face adorns what is currently known as the Milos Raonic Grandstand court. The 21-year-old Montenegro-born, Spain-trained Toronto native (tennis’ global nature can be funny sometimes) is flattered by all the attention, even if he isn’t entirely comfortable with the Grandstand naming.
"Guys are teasing me, saying they just got finished playing on my court," says Raonic, tongue firmly in cheek. "I tell them I’m going to start charging them."
Canadians can be forgiven for letting their excitement get the best of them. Raonic arrives in Toronto as the tournament’s No. 16 seed, becoming the first seeded Canadian man at the event since Andrew Sznajder in 1989. He has also spent the better part of the last year and a half offering reason for the hype, winning three ATP titles (two in San Jose, one in Chennai) and seeing his ranking rise from No. 156 at the beginning of 2011 to his current perch at No. 24 in the world.
Raonic’s handful of wins have come alongside a slew of tantalizingly close misses. He has pushed Roger Federer to three sets in each of their three meetings this year on three different surfaces. Most recently, he came up on the short end of a marathon Olympic tilt, losing 25-23 in the final set of his second-round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The losses are, at least, partly a product of Raonic’s youth and inexperience, an essential part of the development of a player still learning the game. That youth is also the basis for the hope and anticipation that surrounds him. Now, he arrives in Toronto with some achievements to celebrate, but also with plenty of optimism over what might be still to come.
"We think he’ll have a huge influence on the tournament," says Rogers Cup Tournament Director Karl Hale. "Milos is a special guy, and he’s actually loving this. We think it will help him. He’s the guy here in Toronto."
For Raonic’s part, the big-serving right-hander will acknowledge the excitement of playing about 20 minutes away from his north Toronto home but is quick to emphasize the importance of staying focused on the task at hand.
"For sure it's going to be something pretty amazing, pretty special, and I think it can help me through a lot of moments throughout a match," says Raonic. "But even though there's going to be the crowd support and everything, at the end of the day I have to try to tune that out as much and go about my business."