Milos Raonic lost to Tomas Berdych in the third round of the Paris Masters on Thursday, ending the 22-year-old’s bid to qualify for the World Tour Finals for the first time. With the defeat, Raonic is 45-21 this year with two titles and two runner-up finishes. In August, he became the first Canadian man to crack the top 10. SI.com recently caught up with the 11th-ranked Raonic, who discussed his development since a breakout 2011 season, his goals, his Twitter habits and more.
SI.com: After you made the fourth round as a qualifier at the 2011 Australian Open and went on to win the SAP Open that year, you said everything was brand new to you. You were playing in tournaments you’d never been to before. So two years later, how has it all been?
Raonic: Other than sitting at airports and on planes, it’s good. I don’t mind it. I like all sorts of food so there’s always something somewhere that I’m craving. It’s nice.
SI.com: Do you feel like you’re living your dream?
Raonic: When I grew up and watched the Grand Slams, what you saw were the main courts, or the Masters [tournaments] on the center court. You don’t see Court 3. So when I get to play on those courts in those big matches, those are the “living the dream” moments. It’s not living the life that you dream of now. It’s more when you were 8 or 9 years old and just starting out with tennis and you think, “Yeah, I want to be that guy playing on that court playing for that title.” It’s more satisfying the childhood fantasies rather than now.
SI.com: Is it hard to keep perspective week in and week out and monitor your progress?
Raonic: People look a lot at results. But I try to look more at the goals. I feel like I’m far from achieving my goals. OK, I got into the top 10 [in August], but then it’s about the number above that. There’s so much I have to improve. As much as I love tournament weeks, I really love the training. Because then it’s just about shutting up and doing the work that the people you trust tell you that you have to do. Those are the weeks I really dig. And when you get a chance to be playing well and incorporate [what you've practiced], that excites me as well. People like to talk about my serve, but I can still get that better. I can still improve in so many parts of my game. It’s really exciting to me.
SI.com: Do you consider this still a developmental time of your career?
Raonic: Yeah, developing is the most important part. If I improve, then the ranking will follow. But you have to have that level. No one magically gets that number next to their name.
SI.com: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic aren’t going to be around forever. Players in their young 20s like you, Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov could be the guys to replace them at the top of the game. How hard is it for you to balance your desire for immediate success with the need to be patient?
Raonic: Sometimes that causes frustration and anger, because you know there are steps that need to be taken, but you ask, “Why can’t I have it now?” It’s a sort of eagerness and anxiousness to have it right away. It can be frustrating and dangerous sometimes, but if you don’t have that and you’re just thinking, “Oh, I’ll just wait until these guys fall out of the ranking,” that’s a dangerous route. So I think it’s necessary to have [high expectations right now], but it’s also necessary to learn to deal with it and look at the big picture and understand the whole thing. But 70 percent of the time you don’t see that. Your team sees it, so that’s why it’s important to have good people around you.
SI.com: Do you think you play better with or without expectations/pressure?
Raonic: I do better when I expect more from myself.
SI.com: Is it hard to shut out the media?
Raonic: It is, but you’re going to hear it no matter what. Social media is too big. There are so many things people say to you. It’s about understanding what’s important. I step out on court and I can represent myself in a way. I can deal with the situation in a certain way, but I can’t control how someone writes about it.
SI.com: Is that frustrating?
Raonic: No, because I’ve got a generally good rep from it. [It's important to] focus on the things you can control and to not waste your time on things you can’t.
SI.com: You’re fairly active on Twitter. Do you read your mentions or ignore them?
Raonic: I have an app that tells me if I get more than 200 mentions. I’ll go through them and read them.
SI.com: Even the nasty stuff? I’ve seen some of the harsh things disgruntled fans can tweet at athletes.
Raonic: Yeah, but what is it at the end of the day? Do you play tennis for that person or do you play for yourself? Do I really want to listen to what this guy says? You scroll through, you go to the next one. It’s there. It’s what you make it.
SI.com: Why do you like reading what people are saying about you?
Raonic: I like to see how people perceive the situation. Since I’m away from Canada so much, I like to see how I’m perceived there. In Canada, and even through much of the U.S., I have great amounts of support. It’s a way for me to see the appreciation and support without it being right around you.
SI.com: What’s the longest stretch of time you get to spend at home during the year? Is it during the offseason?
Raonic: Yeah, I take about 10 days off before I start. This year I’ll do my fitness week in Canada just because we believe it’s a way to keep yourself mentally fresh. You go home to mom’s cooking when you finish your fitness training. When you’re tired, you get to sleep in your own bed. It makes a difference.
SI.com: What do you do during that time at home? Catch a Maple Leafs game?
Raonic: I’ve been to only one Leafs game. I mostly go to Raptors games. There’s a cool concept bar right beside the [Air Canada Centre, where the Maple Leafs and Raptors play]. It has a 22-meter screen and then you have 300 screens all around the bar. Every step has a screen so when you’re walking upstairs, you don’t miss anything. So you watch different things. We go there for football Sundays. I watch Leafs games there rather than in the arena.
I spent July 4th weekend in the Hamptons playing tennis with my friends. So I do a lot of things mainly revolving around sports. I save TV and movies for the road. I try to be more interactive and outside when I’m home.
SI.com: Are most of your friends from school when you were younger?
Raonic: Not that many because I finished high school when I was 16, so I was always with the older kids. And then I was always practicing when they were doing school activities. It’s more friends I grew up playing tennis with before they went to college. And then just friends from my area. There are a lot of high schools in my area.
SI.com: What’s their reaction to Milos Raonic, Canada’s tennis superstar?
Raonic: They’re very supportive. They’re texting coaches. Get a lot of advice there.
SI.com: Like, “Why can’t you break more?”
Raonic: Exactly. When I decided not to go the university route, a lot of people didn’t think I’d be where I am.