Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic shakes up team for 2016 – drops coach, manager

Eh Game
Ivan Ljubicic dispenses some advice to Milos Raonic on the practice court at the French Open. Raonic announced Thursday that their collaboration has ended. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

Ivan Ljubicic -Milos Raonic

Ivan Ljubicic dispenses some advice to Milos Raonic on the practice court at the French Open. Raonic announced Thursday that their collaboration has ended. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

After a year during which injury woes prevented Milos Raonic from continuing his steady progress up the tennis ladder, the 24-year-old Canadian announced on Thursday via Instagram that he and coach Ivan Ljubicic have ended their collaboration.

The Croat, who reached No. 3 in the world as a player, came on board in June, 2013 after Raonic parted ways with the Spaniard Galo Blanco, who had brought him from the netherworld of the rankings to the top 15.

Raonic added the veteran Ricardo Piatti to the team, who had been Ljubicic's coach during his career, in March 2014. The two coaches functioned as a tight unit, trading off at some events and joining forces at others and endeavouring to keep the message to their charge consistent throughout.

The announcement on Instagram – as these things tend to be – was cryptic in terms of who decided what.

"The decision has been made that we will not continue our professional relationship in the coming year; we will remain close friends and I would like to wish him all the best in his future endeavours," Raonic wrote.

It wouldn't be a stretch, parsing the the language of Raonic's statement, that it wasn't necessarily the Canadian's idea. Raonic indicated that the "rest of the team" would continue, and that he believes he can make big strides towards his goals in 2016.

Also, it's not quite complete. Austin Nunn, the manager who came on board nearly four years ago to handle all of Raonic's media and promotional responsibilities, and turned that aspect of Raonic's career into a seemingly smooth operation, was let go last Friday. It's possible there may be more changes to come although Piatti seems to be very much still on board.

Reached by Eh Game, Ljubicic said via e-mail he had "no plans to make any comment on this matter at the present moment."

Ljubicic was a surprise pick at the time, given he didn't have a coaching resumé at that level and Raonic was on the cusp of the top tier of the game and trying to take that ultimate step. He did have the playing experience at the top, though – and the trend towards former top players coming back as coaches was in full swing.

Raonic and Ljubicic discuss some last-minute details before a match at Indian Wells. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)
Raonic and Ljubicic discuss some last-minute details before a match at Indian Wells. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

Already in the top 15 when Ljubicic came on board, Raonic reached the top 10 for the first time in May, 2014, about 10 months later. He peaked at No. 4 – for a week – exactly a year after that and remained steadily in the top 10 until the last few weeks.

If it was a plateau, the view from there wasn't bad at all. 

On a steamy day in Australia last January, Ljubicic and Raonic get their work in. Ljubicic will not be on board when Raonic returns to Melbourne in January. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)
On a steamy day in Australia last January, Ljubicic and Raonic get their work in. Ljubicic will not be on board when Raonic returns to Melbourne in January. (Stephanie Myles/Opencourt.ca)

Raonic's 2015 season was first hampered by a foot problem that required surgery in May, and then a host of aches and pains that he attributed in part to compensating for the foot issue and perhaps a premature return to play at Wimbledon. He ended it with a third-round defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal at the Shanghai Masters 1000 tournament in mid-October.

At the time, he still had a shot at finishing among the final eight who qualified for the year-end finals. But it would have taken a supreme effort and a lot of things would have had to fall his way.

Once the ranking points from his finals appearance at the Paris Masters last fall fell off, Raonic dropped from No. 10 to No. 14 in the rankings this month. 

Ljubicic was the quarterback of Team Raonic, with most of the planning and decisions and coordination of a team that also included physio Claudio Zimaglia as physiotherapist and strength/conditioning coach Dalibor Sirola running through him.

And it wasn't his only gig; the Croat also does television commentary, and serves as manager for Tomas Berdych.

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