In Milos Raonic’s own words, his injury-plagued past 14 months have been “a catastrophe”.
The Canadian was ranked No. 3 in the world just 16 months ago. Today he is No. 38 after struggling with a series of injuries and setbacks that ranged from wrist surgery to a torn hamstring to a hurt knee.
Entering Indian Wells, Raonic had played just four matches on tour this year, winning one and losing three.
He seems to have turned a corner though as he booked himself a spot in the Indian Wells semi-finals, where he takes on another player who knows all too well the pain and suffering of injury: Juan Martin del Potro.
“At the beginning of last year I had a couple tears in my – let’s go down the list. Right adductor, left glute at the beginning of the year. Then I tore my hamstring beginning of February,” recalls Raonic.
“After Wimbledon I had to have wrist surgery. Through the summer I tried to play a few events, tried to treat the issue. That wasn’t possible. I had surgery just before the US Open. Was hoping to start my offseason in the early weeks of October. No, early weeks of November.
“And then in November I hurt my knee. I hurt my meniscus, so I couldn’t play for six weeks. Started training just before the Australian Open, and I’m here today…
“It’s been a catastrophe,” he concludes.
The 27-year-old Raonic, a finalist at Wimbledon in 2016, is into his eighth Masters 1000 semi-final and first since Paris 2016, thanks to a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 win over 18th-seeded Sam Querrey on Friday.
The Canadian was runner-up to Novak Djokovic here in 2016 and made the last-four in 2015 – those were his last two appearances in the California desert, having missed it the 2017 edition through injury.
In his corner this fortnight in Palm Springs is Goran Ivanisevic, who is coaching Raonic on a trial basis in Indian Wells and Miami.
Ivanisevic, a former Wimbledon champion who helped Marin Cilic win the 2014 US Open, is having a strong start with Raonic, who is still finding his way back to top form.
“The one thing he has done is he’s made the objectives very clear with me and really tried to simplify things just so I can stick to the things I know how to do well and not try to overcomplicate my tennis at this moment,” Raonic said of Ivanisevic.
“And when you make a decision, go for it. Don’t question it. Don’t think about the what ifs. What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? Just stick.
“And he’s well aware. He’s come back from injury many times. You know, doing the things with conviction is the most important thing at first.”
Raonic, who is searching for a first title since Brisbane 2016, admits he is still lacking discipline during his matches but is pleased with how he’s been hitting the ball.
He’s not too happy about his ranking though, a sore subject he tries to avoid discussing.
“I prefer not to talk about it, I’m not too proud of it that’s for sure,” he says when asked about the number 38 next to his name.
“I’ll talk about things. Just you know I don’t feel great about it. When people ask me ‘what’s your ranking today?’ it’s not my proudest moment.”
He’ll move up to at least No. 25 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Raonic takes a 2-1 head-to-head record against Del Potro entering their semi-final on Saturday.
Their most recent meeting was a Raonic win over Del Potro in the Delray Beach semi-finals last year.
Del Potro is into the last-four stage in Indian Wells for a third time in his career, with his best appearance being a runner-up showing to Rafael Nadal in 2013.
The Argentine is on a nine-match winning streak, his latest triumph a battling 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Del Potro is seeking a first title at the Masters 1000 level, having lost three finals in Indian Wells (2013), Shanghai (2013) and Canada (2009).
“I lost many finals, and I would like to be in the final again. But I know Milos is another guy who can win the tournament. Roger (Federer) and (Borna) Coric are playing so good. So everything can happen. But I’m looking forward to win the first one (Masters 1000) here,” said Del Potro.
The 29-year-old, who has recovered from four wrist surgeries throughout his career – one on his right and three on his left – nearly quit tennis a few years ago, but is now ranked No. 8 in the world, with an Olympic silver medal and Davis Cup title under his belt.
He hopes his journey back from injuries can be inspiring for others.
“They know how much effort I did to survive on this sport to make surgeries, for never give up. And I think it’s a good story for the kids to learn about the effort of the life, you know,” said Del Potro.
“Everybody has to do efforts to get what you want, and I wanted to keep playing tennis. I paid very high price to do it, but I did it and I’m so happy to solve the problem. I’m staying here with this level.”
Federer booked his semi-final spot and extended his season win streak to 16 straight matches with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over South Korea’s Chung Hyeon on Thursday.
That equals the 16-0 start to the 2006 ATP calendar season. If he makes it to Sunday’s final and wins he will reach a career best 17 consecutive wins.
Switzerland’s Federer recalls parts of that streak but not all the tournaments he played in to get there.
“Twelve years ago, a long time ago. I don’t know. What was I doing back then?” he asked. “I don’t even remember what tournament I played first up and won.
“I guess I had a similar good start to the year. Back then I was on this massive streak of winning 30, 40-plus matches. It had already started the year before that, which this time it didn’t. I had to get it going again in Australia.
“It’s a great start. Hopefully I can do one more and beat my best streak on Saturday.”
Federer put on an impressive display of serving and shot making, winning 70 percent of his first serve points against Chung. He had just one double fault and broke Chung’s serve four times in the one hour, 23 minute main stadium match.
“I’m happy I found a way. I started off really well, struggled afterwards, found my game back again and was able to protect it, saving big break points early on in the second set,” Federer said.
“I think that was the key to the match, those 10, 15 minutes where I broke at the end of the first and then saved break points early in the second.”
I'm on the massage table.. so, close! https://t.co/UcFrF8F4pQ— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) March 15, 2018
Federer clinched the victory on his second match point when he blasted his 12th and final ace of the contest.
He next faces Croatian Coric who outlasted seventh seeded Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
– 20th Grand Slam –
Earlier this year Federer defended his title at the Australian Open, picking up his 20th Grand Slam win.
Last month he claimed his 97th singles title with a victory in Rotterdam which helped him regain the world number one ranking and become the oldest No. 1 player in ATP history.
And this victory guarantees he will hold onto the top spot after Indian Wells.
This was the first match between Federer and Chung since the semi-finals of the Aussie Open when the Swiss was leading 6-1, 5-2 and Chung was forced to retire with a foot blister.
Chung dropped to 15-6 on the season as he was appearing in his fifth quarter-final in six tournaments this year.
Chung is set to become the top Asian player in the ATP rankings, surpassing Japan’s Kei Nishikori who has held sway since 2011.
“I’m really honored to be number one Asian,” Chung said.
Federer said he plans to get ready for Coric the same way he prepared for Chung.
“He plays similar to Chung,” Federer said. “A great mover and has got a world of confidence.
“I got to play aggressive tennis as much as I can. Pretty simple, not always easy to do.”
Provided by AFP Sport
They call him the ‘Gentle Giant’ and scream his name from the stands wherever he goes — Juan Martin del Potro fans are just as passionate and emotional as the man they admire so much.
Del Potro isn’t just a national hero in Argentina for being a Grand Slam champion, Olympic silver medallist and Davis Cup winner, the 29-year-old is loved worldwide and his inspiring and successful return from career-threatening injuries has earned him supporters across the globe.
I asked some of his fans after his practice session in Indian Wells on Thursday ahead of his Friday quarter-final against Philipp Kohlschreiber, on what they find so special about Del Potro.
Here’s what they had to say…