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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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What goes through the mind of Milos Raonic when he thinks about the possibility of a summer without Wimbledon?

"It'd be a hard decision to accept at first," he admits, "but it's also going to be one that you understand is completely the right choice with everything going on around the world."

The All England Club is holding emergency meetings to determine the fate of this year's Championships with a decision expected Wednesday. It appears likely they will opt to cancel the event, which starts in late June, for the first time since the Second World War.

Raonic has experienced some of the best moments of his career on the famous London lawns, including making the championship match in 2016. The tournament holds a special place in his heart.

"Once you enter those gates, even if it's during the practice week before the event, it's the tournament that strikes you the most," the 29-year-old said. "It's not the biggest venue, the courts aren't as big as they may be at the other slams, but there is the tradition there. You notice the old-fashioned things that they've really stuck to. There are no sponsor boards in the back of the courts, the grass is pristine, they make sure all the players respect the court, I think the all-white (clothing) looks great as well so those are all things that growing up you really appreciate.

"It's the only grand slam final I've made. I've consistently played some of my best tennis there. It's a tournament I look forward to going to every year. Many times I've come to it post-injury and managed to play well so it's sort of helped me rebound my season many times. It's a place that's been very good to me and I'm very thankful for it. It's going to be hard not being able to go there if that's the decision, because it's always been a priority of mine to be healthy for that time of year. But, you know, it will give me something more to look forward to in a year's time."

Raonic is currently camped out in Florida where he hoped to be playing in the Miami Open this week. He continues to train while keeping a close watch on how the pandemic plays out.

"The news is kind of hard to follow these days, because there's not much positive really coming out," he said. "It's all growing numbers and escalating pretty quickly so I think it's important we focus on that. So, if there is no Wimbledon it will be a sad and difficult to accept, but you will be over it pretty fast knowing it’s the right choice. I think sport is not even secondary on the list of things that need to be going on right now."

After a strong start to the season, including a run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Raonic sits No. 30 in the ATP rankings. He feels like he's turned a corner after a string of injury-plagued years and has a chance to build some momentum whenever the tour gets going again. TSN spoke with Raonic via Skype on Tuesday. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. You can also watch it here:

What's it like for you right now? What's your average day look like?

"I came down here because we had accommodation set-up, we were supposed to be playing in the Miami Open now and there was a good accommodation where we have access to a makeshift gym, access to a tennis court on the property as well so little things like that. Obviously, since tennis is quite far away we're not training too much, because we don't necessarily know when we'll have a chance to play again so it's really been a focus on the fitness and really either one a day or two a day (workouts) so we don't burn out too early on. You know, this may be the longest training block anyone in tennis has ever had and ... trying to balance it out. It's new territory. You don't want to step away for too much, because you don't want to lose that shape and you don't want to lose that sharpness, especially because I started off the year well. But you don't want to go too hard where once you do get the opportunity to play again you might not be as fresh as you like and as eager, because you pushed yourself too hard across the accumulation of these weeks."

When it comes to your down time and staying sane, what are you watching? Any recommendations?
 
"The thing about us as tennis players, we've travelled alone since the age of 14. You know, you're away from your family and most of the time when you're younger you don't even have the means to have a coach with you ... so a lot of us are used to being alone. We're alone in our hotel rooms a lot of the time so I think we're sort of predispositioned to this and a little more aware of how to fill our dates.

"The one thing that is important for me is the training aspect. If I wasn't able to train that would ... cause a lot of stress for me, because I feel like I'd be regressing in my progress, especially since I struggled with health for so many years and so far this year I've found a routine that's given me positive results so I wouldn't want to lose that. So, training is a big part for me.

"I finished that Tiger King doc-series in about three days (smile). There's a lot. We watched Contagion the other day. That was a little eerie to watch at this time. Reading books. Got a puppy so a lot of potty training and stuff and reading a book on how not to mess up your puppy. That's something I always wanted and it sort of felt like one of those things where if it's ever going to (happen) while I was playing this would be it. It's kept me tired, because sleeping hasn't been the easiest, but it has kept me very focused on that and trying to raise her as well as possible. That's been a blessing."

What's her name?

"Charlie."

How long have you wanted a dog?

"I remember when we first moved with my family, when we first immigrated to Canada in '94, I always kept asking my parents for a puppy. Back in Yugoslavia, for me, having domestic pets wasn't a thing. You know, we had a lot of stray dogs around and I would always bring them home and that kind of thing, but it's not a thing that could work. I remember my parents promised me when we moved from an apartment to a house, 'You can have a puppy,' but then I was playing tennis and then tennis was always the reason it wasn't possible, at least from them to me. And then I started travelling and it's something I just didn't even think about. So, I said, 'If this is going to happen, it has to happen now and then I'll figure it out after,' and so far it’s been incredible."

What are you hearing from the ATP and Players' Council? Do you have any idea what needs to happen before play resumes?

"It's hard to know, because tennis is such a set schedule geographically. It's not like we're waiting for one market to open up and for one country to be safe. There's so many factors in tennis that other sports will not have to face, because in tennis it's not about just getting people that are already in the U.S. or that are in Canada to a venue in the U.S., it's about getting people from everywhere in the world to a certain venue and a certain country.

"And the summertime, if Wimbledon doesn’t happen, is meant to be, most of it, in North America ... the numbers (of those infected by COVID-19) are still rising throughout North America, who knows what the state will be, if it will be clear enough. Also, what the travel restrictions are, I don't know if it would be necessarily fair to players if some can't play because their country (residents) have been banned from entering another country and some don't have the possibility to play. Tennis has always been a sport of equal merit, your ranking gets you in, what you've done over the last 52 weeks gives you an opportunity to play and if that can't be incorporated you have to sort of find what is fair.

"So, I think there are a lot of factors that are going to have to be considered. Obviously, everybody wants to contemplate that. Tennis is a sport that you're paid to play, you know, you have to be in a tournament to make money, you have to win matches, everything is result-based, it's not necessarily guaranteed contracts for most players, there's not guaranteed salaries so you have guys who are very eager to play. It's just going to be about when it's safe to play and when we're allowed to play and when everyone will have the equal opportunity to play."

Players want to play and tournaments want their tournaments to be played. What did you think of the French Tennis Federation making the unilateral decision to move the French Open to one week after the US Open?

"Overall, is it the right choice? Yes. Did it happen in a way where the players felt valued and respected? I don't necessarily think so. The day it came out I learned about it over Twitter. We have this massive group chat with 70 of the top 100 players and everybody did learn it over Twitter. I think only really one person was reached out to ... and even the president of the ATP, as well, was only reached out to so that's only two people and they weren’t even looking for opinion it was just more about, 'Hey, it's a heads up, we're going to do this, we're not asking anybody, we don't care, this is what needs to happen.' I understand it from their perspective. They've done a lot of renovations this year, they've put in a new roof, they're still working on it. I know it's not finished so the question is when will the French government allow them to have that many workers in a tight space to finish construction. That's also going to be another factor for them as well, because I don't think you can necessarily play while it's a construction zone.

"I think they wanted to secure a week, because they were nervous that a lot of tournaments will be looking to move ... I think they said, 'We're going to go there and we'll bank on the idea that players will want to play grand slams rather than smaller ATP events and the Laver Cup.' And, at the end of the day, grand slams are the thing that is the most meaningful to us, that is the most meaningful to us from a personal standpoint ... players want to achieve big things and also financially, because of their size they’re able to reward the players that do well the best. So, I think they sort of said, 'Hey, we're the French Open, we know it, we're going to go there and we think people will show up,' and I think people will.

"The only question is how is it going to (be for) players who play three-of-five sets (over) four out of five weeks and with a change of surface as well. So, some players that don't do well at the US Open will have an advantage automatically, because instead of seven days of preparation it's going to be 20 or 16 days and that's a big difference. So, it's the right decision because we want to play and we want to play as much as possible, we just sort of felt a little bit offended by how it happened."

Another thing this break does is it gives you more time to think. Have you reflected on where you are in your career? I know your goal is to win a grand slam, where do you feel you are in that journey?

"The big picture was to win a slam, but I think there were a lot of steps I needed to go through ... to (find) a path that's beneficial for me. I've stayed healthy through the start of the year. I was playing back-to-back and a lot of time I was struggling to do that before. But now I'm not only not struggling with it, I'm actually going day to day without even small amounts of pain so I've been very eager to practice, very keen on every practice ... I can think about, 'What should I do to be better?' Instead of, 'What can I do?' or 'What will my body allow me to do?' So, that's given me a lot of freedom and that's been such a positive and a sensation I haven't had for a long time. That's meant a lot to me so I've really been working hard to keep that going.

"And then it's to get back (to) that perspective of, 'Hey, how can I get into every tournament I play with the best possible chance to win the tournament, to win every match?' ... I think I've improved over the last few years. Definitely my results haven't been where I've liked, but I've improved as a tennis player and I think if I can give myself the possibility to create some momentum, get back into the habit of playing match after match, week after week ... it's been a long time since I've done that and it's hard to switch that on, that's sort of an instinctual and trained skill and if I can get into that I think I'll be able to do better than I have before and I'm excited about that and that means a lot to me and it gives me a lot of energy and a lot of motivation."

You mentioned this is a break unlike anything anyone has experienced before. I mean, the tennis off-season is pretty short. I know you're always looking for an edge. Do you think that everyone will come out of this sluggish or is there an advantage to be gained?

"It will be very different, because this is the first time individuality can really come through. Before individuality would sort of come through maybe the first grand slam of the year, you sort of see where you are, but then everybody was sort of in the same cycle and it was about who can manage that throughout a whole season best. And, obviously, the top guys have done it so many times over and over again and they've learned how to get the best out of themselves consistently for at least 14 out of the 16 or 14 out of the last 17 tournaments that they've played. So, I think you'll see some players come out very strong and I think you'll see some players take a little bit of time to sort of get back into it.

"For me, one thing that's motivating is I've always played well in Australia. When it comes time to play in Australia I've always found a way, because I've always relished opportunities to train, to really work on things without the immediate sort of deadline or pressure of a tournament coming up and then having to feel like, 'How much can I train?' When I have the freedom to train, when I've been healthy, when it's day-to-day, week-to-week with a set schedule that you can follow that's not fluctuating because of travel or results and this sort of thing, I've always been able to get a lot out of myself and that's a very positive thing. I think that's why I haven't really sat down or taken any time off since any of this news broke. It's sort of been, 'OK, what can I do day by day,' and I've just lowered the volume, because you have to figure out a way to be able to make that intensity last ... to always find a way that you're making progress, but not where you've gone too far and then by the time you start getting closer to the possibility to compete you're resting."

TSN is replaying classic tennis matches to keep fans entertained right now. If we did a week dedicated to the best of Milos Raonic, what matches would you like featured? Certainly, I've got to the think the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal win over Roger Federer tops the list.

"That one. In 2014, I believe it was the quarterfinals against Roger, it was the first time I beat him and it was to qualify for the World Tour Finals, it was in the Paris Masters, that was a very important one. I guess I remember the matches that didn't go the way I would've liked a bit more, but there'​s been some I played great in, but it didn't edge out my way. I played really well in that semifinal when I got hurt against Andy (Murray) in Australia in 2016. We had that match with many breaks towards the end in the semifinals of the World Tour Finals with Andy as well in 2016, I would put that one up there. I played really well against Stan (Wawrinka) in the early rounds of the 2016 Australian Open, I think it was the fourth round. Those are some of them. I guess I like to watch the ones where I could do things better. Those are the ones that are sort of always playing in my head ... I like to watch all my matches regardless and probably even the ones I lose a bit more, because they tend to put a fire underneath me."

The match I had on my list that you didn't mention was the 2011 Australian Open and that third round win over Mikhail Youzhny, because it really felt like that was the first time Canadian sports fans, in general, got introduced to you.

"Beating Youzhny, yeah, and also that year, oh, now I can come up with a lot more, beating (Fernando) Verdasco to win my first title in San Jose. Then right after that losing a really tight match with (Andy) Roddick 7-5 in the third set in Memphis. I would even put that 25-23 loss in the third round of the Olympics against (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga at the All England Club in 2012, that one is up there. That actually came up in conversation with the postponement of the Olympics. So, there's a lot. Win or lose, you have to remember it doesn't just depend on one guy. It's not enough for me to play well, you have to find a way, because there's another guy on the other side of the net who has his say in the match as well."