Seriously guys, start believing in the sleeve.
Milos Raonic is on the best 10-match stretch of his young career, going 9-1 to start the new year. He defeated Roger Federer in the final of Brisbane, and followed it up by giving Andy Murray a run for his money in the semis of the Aussie Open (even with a left adductor injury). His improved play had his opponents struggling for answers and one question still looms large: Is Raonic a future world No. 1?
After a spectacular start to the year, let’s take a look at why Milos will be the next world No. 1.
This one is a no-brainer. Milos has one of the most feared serves on tour, in terms of speed and precision. Stats don’t lie:
2015 ace rate – 19.1%, 3rd on tour
2015 % of 1st serve points won – 81.3%, 2nd on tour
2015 % of 2nd serve points won – 57.7%, 2nd on tour
He is a top-3 server on tour, hands down. He hits >150mph first serves and gets them in more than 60% of the time. Even when he’s down in his service games, he’s never really out. When losing his own service game…
Watch him casually smash four aces against one of the best servers of all-time:
Although Milos’ serve game is well-known, he may even be more infamous for his return game. Here, Martin Short describes what infamous really means:
But, like El Guapo, Milos’ return game has been BAD. Like, below tour average bad. Fortunately, he seems to have turned a corner under new coach Carlos Moya, as 2016 has Milos firing on all cylinders. In 2016, Milos has won 35.4% of his return points, with some of those matches coming against top 10 players. This is above the tour average of 35% on hard courts, which is a significant improvement over past years. In every other year of his career, percent of return points won has been below 35%, sometimes a lot below.
In terms of return points won, Raonic has been 6% better than the average player this year on hard courts. In 2015 hard-court matches, he was 10% below average when returning, 3% below average in 2014, and 7% below average in 2013. Just the fact that he is winning sets without tiebreaks is a positive sign.
We all know that Milos is an elite server – but it’s his return that can propel him to new heights.
Is serve-and-volleying back in business? If you think volleying has no place in the modern game, you are sorely mistaken.
On his way to the quarters in the Aussie Open, Milos won more points at the net than at the baseline, 141 to 138. Against Stan Wawrinka, two-time Slam winner, he serve-volleyed 57 (!) times. These are unheard of numbers in the modern game — numbers that would make Pistol Pete proud. Not only is he coming to net more often, he is doing it better than ever before:
If you watched any of the Aussie Open, you would have noticed that Milos’ footwork and movement were next level (for him) in Melbourne. This point should tell it all… (Murray still has a little bit of an edge)
Sleeve status: Believed.