NEW YORK – The tennis machine that is Milos Raonic Inc. broke down Wednesday at the US Open, proving that no matter how much attention to detail, how many hours of efficient work are put in on the practice court or how painstaking the diet might be, the human body is, well, human.
The 25-year from Thornhill, Ont. was beaten by American Ryan Harrison 6-7 (4), 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 in a match that clocked in at three hours-plus even before the formality of the 26-minute fourth set.
By the middle of the second set, Raonic was starting to cramp. By the middle of the third, it was clear he was in big trouble. He had treatment for his left wrist, as well as a couple of visits from the physio to massage his left quad. He was shaking out his right wrist by the end, as well – sometimes even in the middle of points.
“A little bit of stress. I don't think hydration was an issue. I think I always take that precaution. Probably just nerves and stress, a mental sort of over-exuberance rather than -- probably more than it should,” Raonic said. “The left arm; right forearm there towards the end of the third; both quads; a little bit hip flexor on the left,” he said.
Wednesday was a lot more humid at Flushing Meadows than the previous days, although it wasn’t anything close to as bad as it can be here. Raonic’s countryman Vasek Pospisil, who preceded him onto the Grandstand court, struggled with it some; but Pospisil’s issues with humidity are well documented. Raonic has never had those kinds of issues.
The serving speeds on Raonic’s missile delivery were in double-take territory as is – “that slow?”. He hardly hit any ball with any sort of pace through the last set and a half and often winced in pain after hitting certain shots. And he couldn’t move – or he didn’t dare move too quickly, for fear another cramp would hit and finish him off for good.
“Sort of the really painful cramps started to pass at some point in the third set, but then I started getting small ones where I couldn't hold the racquet,” he said. “I couldn't switch grips from one point to the next. There were a few points where I would hold the racquet with my left and trying to stretch out my right hand in between shots, and that's not going to work.”
Raonic could have just pulled the plug. But it’s a Grand Slam, and he knows as well as anyone that anything can happen on the other side of the net. And if something did, the cramping wasn’t an injury but a physical condition he might well have been able to get taken care of before his next round.
So he hung in there, smartly. But it wasn’t fun to watch. Even a half an hour after the match, Raonic said his back started cramping a little just from carrying his tennis bag.
“I think I hesitated at the beginning. I forced a little bit. I wasn't moving that well. Then later on, a bunch of those (errors) were sort of out of my hand. There were points there that I could barely hold the racquet,” he said. “I was just sort of trying to get through, either hope it subsides after a certain amount of time or gets better. It just didn't happen.”
The big server wasn’t happy with his serving in his first-round win over Dustin Brown. And he said he didn’t start off serving well in this one, either. “I think I didn't start off well in the match. I started off feeling a little bit heavy, which has happened to me before. You sort of get through the first set. You pull that one out and you sort of start to relax a little bit. I didn't do that today. I just sort of compounded the stress. I kept trying to force the shots. I was hesitating mentally on the shots. I just felt a little bit a step slow,” he said.
Compounding Raonic’s problems were the fact that Harrison, once a highly touted junior who then had to deal with the label of “not having lived up to other people’s hype”, has had a good summer and is playing some very good tennis.
“It's really hard initially, because first of all you're a little concerned. He's a good guy and you don't want him to be seriously hurt. I wouldn't say I was happy to hear that it was cramping once I heard from the chair that he was getting cramping treatments, but you're certainly happy that it's not like a tear in the hamstring or something like that where he's in jeopardy of being out for a long time. I saw him fall at Wimbledon one year and had to get hip surgery. That was scary. You don't want to see that for anybody,” Harrison said. “Once I realized it was just the cramping, and you see a guy who's kind of labouring out there, it becomes tough initially, especially because when I first started to pick up on it, it was still him up a break in the third.”
Harrison said that with his live arm, Raonic’s serve wasn’t doing to just go away because of a leg issue. When they resumed, Harrison broke Raonic immediately to even the third set at 4-4. “All I was thinking once I got to the third set was I really want to make this feel like a long way back for him. If he's not already feeling physically good, I want it to be a long way back.”
Despite being a lot shorter than Raonic, Harrison can serve nearly as hard. And he kept his often-fiery emotions under control as Raonic was struggling.
In other words, after Raonic pulled out the first set, he couldn’t relax and drop his stress level a bit because Harrison didn’t just go away. That was the best strategy of all because Raonic’s machine short-circuited a little bit trying to up his level despite not serving his best.
“I didn't serve well to start this tournament. That's normally my go-to. That can keep me out of situations. I think that sort of added a little bit more than I normally have to deal with,” he said. “I think that just sort of caught up to me throughout that match.”
So with all of his lofty ambitions for this US Open – and they certainly weren’t out of line with what he’s capable of doing, especially in the current landscape at the top of men’s tennis – Raonic is out of the final Grand Slam of the season in the second round.
It was a lousy 24 hours on the US Open brand-new Grandstand with Genie Bouchard losing Tuesday afternoon, Milos Raonic’s Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil Wednesday morning and then Raonic after that.
It means all of the Canadian singles players in the main draws are out, after just three days.
As well, Pickering Ont.’s Adil Shamasdin and partner Martin Klizan of Slovakia got a tough draw in the doubles, and fell 6-1, 6-3 to the No. 3 seeds, Bob and Mike Bryan of the U.S., in the first round of men’s doubles Wednesday.