INTERVIEW-Tennis-'Baby Sampras' Raonic in a hurry to hit top 50
MELBOURNE Jan 25 (Reuters) - Barely shaving and his voice still breaking, baby-faced Milos Raonic scarcely looks like a player who could strike terror into opponents on a tennis court.
But the 20-year-old Canadian left his mark on this year's Australian Open after becoming the first qualifier to reach the last 16 since 2005 with a verve that suggests he is no flash in the pan.
Refreshingly ebullient after a 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-4 defeat by Spain's David Ferrer, Raonic told Reuters his run had given him the boost he needed to play consistently at the top level.
"Nobody would believe I am even here this week," he said in an interview deep in the bowels of Melbourne Park's Rod Laver Arena. "There are a lot more positives than negatives.
"The guy (Ferrer) is number seven in the world -- and has been there for many years," the lanky Raonic added, his voice cracking as he perches awkwardly on a plastic chair.
"I'm playing well at this level," added the Montenegro-born Raonic, who is projected to break into the top 100 when the next world rankings are published.
"It's a good opportunity to take this momentum from here. The next step would be to get into the top 50 as soon as I can."
Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer both purred in admiration on the subject of Raonic, who lit up Melbourne by knocking out experienced 10th seed Mikhail Youzhny in the third round.
The world 152, whose boyhood idol was Pete Sampras, also clocked the fastest serve of the year's first grand slam at 230 kph as of the quarter-final stage.
Raonic, who lost in the first round of last year's U.S. Open in his only previous appearance in a grand slam main draw, said problems with his temper were largely a thing of the past.
"I was struggling a bit with it in qualifying," he said, referring to his on-court tantrums. "Really it comes down to me, staying on top of myself. I ask myself for a lot.
"I wasn't really trashing rackets. It was mostly just shooting my mouth off.
"I've learned to accept mistakes better. Now I am able to see everything so much clearer because I'm not getting caught up in the moment."
"I'm not panicking or thinking about the previous points or 'What if this? What if this?' I'm just staying within myself and trying to dictate play as much as I can."
Raonic was quick to play down comparisons with a young Federer, who learned to curb his short fuse before going on to win 16 grand slam titles.
"That guy is a talent of another level," said Raonic, whose uncle is the former vice president of Montenegro.
"I hope to achieve what he has. Like he says, he feels he matured a bit later but it is also a maturity thing, the reason why I am able to stay so collected now."
Raonic's eyes sparkled when asked about Sampras.
"The dominance I felt he could create with his serve, the way he was able to finish six years in a row number one. I loved watching him play at Wimbledon," said Raonic.
"It was one of my favourite tournaments growing up. I look forward now with the new ranking to be able to play directly in the main draw there."
Raonic's game should suit Wimbledon's grass courts.
"It should be good for my game," he said. "Sampras was a big idol and a big reason why I put so much into my serve. He was really inspirational."
The world awaits Raonic but the youngster has no doubts he will not follow Canada's last big-name player Greg Rusedksi, who famously defected to represent Britain.
"No chance," said Raonic. "My loyalty is to Canada."
(Editing by Martyn Herman. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)
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