Raonic bursts onto scene in 2011
Welcome to the 2011 Year in Review. Beginning Dec. 20, in a time frame just shy of a fortnight, FOXSports.com's panel of tennis commentators — Richard Evans, Greg Couch, Brian Webber, Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer — will share their thoughts on the topic of the day. So check back each day to catch one final look back at a memorable year in tennis.
TO CONTINUE OUR YEAR IN REVIEW, WE ASK . . . WHO WAS THE BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
EVANS: One slip on Wimbledon’s grass, a tweak in the hip and Milos Raonic lost his chance to make an even bigger impact in the second half of the season than he had in the first.
Until that moment, the powerful Canadian, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Dec. 27, had transformed his status from a young hopeful into a player to be feared in a matter of weeks.
It began when he reached the Round of 16 at the Australian Open after blasting his way through qualifying. Afterward, he flew straight to Johannesburg, qualified there and reached the final. Eating up the air miles, Raonic then flew to San Jose, Calif., where he proceeded to eliminate Xavier Malisse, James Blake and Gael Monfils before beating Fernando Verdasco in the final.
With barely time to savor his first ATP title, Raonic went to Memphis, where the strapping young man beat Verdasco for the second time in three days and then took care of Mardy Fish before losing to Andy Roddick 7-6, 6-7, 7-5 in the final.
I cannot remember a rookie beating so many good players so quickly during his first weeks on the tour. Raonic found the going harder on European clay, where his massive serve was easier to handle, but his game is not just about the serve. Using his 6-foot-5 frame to full effect, he has the wing span of a 747 at the net and hits blistering service returns off his forehand. By May 2, he had reached No. 25 on the ATP ranking list after having begun the season 156th. Some start.
On his return to the tour in the fall after July hip surgery, Raonic regained some confidence by reaching the semifinals at the Stockholm Open and now it remains to be seen whether he can return to the levels to which he aspired in early 2011. If he can, the top 10 will soon be looking over their shoulders.
COUCH: It was the Tweet heard 'round the tennis world: "Fu—USTA!! Their full of sh--!" That was the end of a story we'll call How Not to Develop a Prodigy. Donald Young and the USTA had irreconcilable differences. Young was officially and finally a story of
failed hype and lost hope.
And then? Well, maybe he just finally developed. Or maybe the public venting – Patrick McEnroe responded with a list of all the USTA had done for Young, all but calling him an ingrate – accomplished something. Sometimes a situation takes a bottoming out.
Young’s ranking went from 95 into the 80s and then the 50s and 40s. Everyone who had
given up on him was noticing. He reached the final 16 of the US Open and rose all the way to No. 39.
The USTA, which had considered dumping him, was coaching him again. See how well harmony works? And now, well, the mess has continued. Young decided to go back to his parents as his primary coaches. At 22, seven years on tour, Young could be in the top 20 by the end of 2012. Or, he could be back out of the top 100.
WEBBER: The toughest challenge for any tennis player is to crack the top 10 and contend for a Slam. Alexandr Dolgopolov is poised to take that giant leap in his career in 2012. The Ukrainian made a big move in the rankings vaulting from No. 48 in January to No. 15 at the end of the season, while capturing his first ATP singles title on clay in Umag, Croatia. Dolgopolov's father is a former pro who taught his son the subtleties and nuances of tennis at a young age. In an era dominated by big hitters, few players can match Dolgopolov's variety of shots and angles. His ability to change pace served him well in reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, upsetting fourth-seeded Robin Soderling along the way. That could be foreshadowing even bigger things to come in the coming year.
BLANKEMEYER: Milos Raonic. Best word to describe Raonic? Huge. Huge serve, huge groundstrokes, huge future. The 6-foot-5 Canadian — largely a challenger-level player before 2011 — took the ATP Tour by storm this year, reaching the round of 16 as a qualifier at the Australian Open before winning his first tour event at San Jose with a straight-set victory over Fernando Verdasco.
Raonic scored wins over top-20 players Mikhail Youzhny, Verdasco (twice) and Mardy Fish (twice) — all on hard courts, where his unpredictable, 140-mph serves confounded many top opponents. A hip injury at Wimbledon derailed Raonic’s season, but he showed he’s got the power and skill to challenge for a top-10 ranking.
Richard Evans is a tennis writer for FOXSports.com. Greg Couch is a national columnist for FOXSports.com. Brian Webber is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com's tennis coverage. Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer are tennis editors for FOXSports.com.