MELBOURNE, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Milos Raonic is as fastidious about his food as his attitude to training and hopes his ‘diva-like’ attention to detail might help him gate-crash the exclusive club guarded jealously by the ‘Big Four’ of men’s tennis.
The towering 22-year-old continued his steady rise in 2012, winning two titles and finishing the season as the youngest player in the top 20, but believes greater success could be on the menu in 2013.
Raonic’s appetite for the game is matched only, perhaps, by his love of a good filet mignon, and the Montenegro-born Canadian has been getting his fix at the swanky ‘Rockpool’ restaurant in Melbourne’s Crown Casino.
Steak is the last thing on Raonic’s mind on a 40-degree Celsius day at the Australian Open on Thursday, however, and after beating Czech second-round opponent Lukas Rosol in the searing heat, ice-baths and sushi are the order of the day.
“I‘m a diva when it comes to food, I know what I want and I‘m pretty diva-esque if I don’t get it,” Raonic, seeded 13th at Melbourne Park, told Reuters after setting up a third round match with 17th-seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Practice is the same: “If stuff’s not going well and I‘m not happy and I don’t believe I‘m working on the right thing I’ll get pretty upset.”
Raonic leaps on questions and answers directly in a mono-tone voice, but it’s hard to imagine the still baby-faced player losing his temper. After his match, he deals with three television interviews outdoors on a stifling afternoon, cracking jokes and ribbing his manager.
It’s a very different Raonic to the hot-headed 20-year-old who made an exhilarating run to the fourth round at Melbourne Park in 2011 after needing to qualify for the main draw.
Renowned for his bazooka serves and even explosive tantrums, the 6ft-5in Raonic made a big impression. He remembers the tournament as a blur of hard-fought tennis matches and hasty media appearances as Canada’s new sensation.
“It was fun, it was so much fun for my parents I could tell every time on the phone with them because I‘m from this educated family that going pro, and not going to university, is not really a decision that comes over easily,” he said.
“It sort of took a lot of weight off my shoulders because I know how much they care for me and my brother and sister and they were really proud.”
Raonic, who entered the tournament ranked 152, was dumped by eventual semi-finalist David Ferrer, but charged into the top 50 and reached a maximum ranking of 13 last year.
Long touted as the next big thing, Raonic has failed to surpass the brilliant run in his Australian Open debut at the grand slams, but matched it with an appearance in the last 16 at the U.S. Open last year before running into eventual champion Andy Murray.
The conspicuous lack of success at the majors has delayed Raonic’s rise into the top 10, and his match against Rosol on far-flung court 13 reinforces the work ahead of him.
”I enjoy (the big courts), you watch these tournaments as a kid,“ he said. ”They show centre court. You don’t see much of court 13 on TV compared to how much you see Rod Laver Arena.
”That’s where you want to be. You want to be on these big courts. It means you’re doing something right, it means you’re getting there.
“It’s hard to say I‘m proud of what I’ve achieved so far, but I am not satisfied. Since the U.S. Open I’ve been (ranked) around 16, then got up to 13, I don’t know. It’s hard to say, but 13, 14, 15 feels a little mediocre.”
Taking the next step inevitably means taking out one or two of Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal at a grand slam and Raonic could well meet the Swiss maestro in the fourth round.
Although he notched a big win over Murray in Tokyo last year, Raonic has lost all three hard-fought encounters against Federer last year.
“With the (top) four guys, I don’t know. With Murray I’ve found my way through ... with Roger I’ve been so close three times,” said Raonic, who has set himself a goal of qualifying in the top eight players for the season-ending ATP Tour Finals.
“When those opportunities keep coming in front of you, you sort of see that door. Right now, I feel like a few times I’ve just sort of knocked on it and haven’t got a reply. I’ve just got to kick it down.”
Raonic, who moved to Canada when he was three, still has plenty of relatives living in Montenegro, but represents his adopted country with pride in Davis Cup and at the London Olympics earlier this year.
Entreaties to represent the small Balkan nation of his birth, while flattering, have been politely declined.
“I want to get my name on grand slam trophies for Canada,” he said. “I love the effect I’ve had in Canada and how much Canada has given to myself and my family as far as opportunity goes. I can only do a small part of paying that back by representing them as best as I can.” (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)