“Milos doesn’t need to apologise for his game” – Interview with Ivan Ljubičić on Milos Raonic

From l’Équipe print edition Monday March 23 2015 page 17 by Frédéric Bernes

Ivan Ljubičić defends his protégé Milos Raonic’s style of play and discusses the stages of improvement of the world number 6, who was beaten in the Indian Wells semi-final by Roger Federer.

He’s the only one who’s name isn’t Federer, Djoković or Nadal to have won  Indian Wells since 2004.  In 2010, the Croat Ivan Ljubičić won the biggest title of his career here. Presently coaching Canadian Milos Raonic, alongside Riccardo Piatti, the big bald one and world number 3 hasn’t lost his frankness.

Milos Raonic beat Federer for the first time last year in Bercy, and he’s just beaten Nadal for the first time. Do you feel he’s getting closer to them?

They’re baby steps but he’s getting there.  He improves in almost every tournament. We’ve made a lot of changes in his game and even his technique in the last year. Beating Rafa here in Indian Wells, a tournament where that’s very difficult to do, is an important step. He’s showing them that he’s there – but the guys (the “Big 4”) don’t gift you anything. It didn’t work like that fifteen or twenty years ago. Sampras and Agassi had occasional dips.

Now he has to show that he can beat them in a Grand Slam …

Yes and that’s what’s most difficult. The ideal would be for Milos to beat those guys again. Look: he’s never beaten Novak. Right?! When he had to play him at the Australian Open [in the quarter-finals], it was complicated mentally. You haven’t done it until you need to do it in five sets, in Australia on top of everything, where Novak is so strong … I’m not saying that because he’s beaten Rafa, beating him at Roland Garros will be easy [laughs]. But Milos won’t be in the same frame of mind.

What’s the most radical change in young Milos’ game?

Five steps. He’s moved up five steps on the court. Before he was far back and hit with enormous spin. Which is an easy tactic. You can use it, but you can’t play with it. He didn’t move well. He was the opposite of what I’d imagined for him. Too me, when you’re two metres tall (1.96 more precisely), you shouldn’t play like that. His previous coach (the Spaniard Galo Blanco) didn’t agree with me. But OK. He brought him from 300th to 15th in the world: hats off!

Since the start of the season, when he’s sitting down, Milos does this odd tapping routine, like he’s playing piano on his knees …

He’s working on his mental preparation with someone. It’s not a psychologist. Milos isn’t lying on a couch talking about his childhood [laughs]. He’s found that this “ritual” works, He stayed impeturbable against Nadal. But you really should talk to him about it [we tried but Raonic was vague on the subject]. The goal is to know yourself as much as possible. Milos has changed his eating habits, his technique … he’s an open and super determined person.

Exactly, isn’t it complicated sometimes to work with such a disciplined boy?

Telling him, ‘Listen, tomorrow it’s rest.’ We have problems with that. It might sound amusing, but I’m serious. He’s two metres tall, weighs a hundred kilos, he needs to be careful. Milos has a tendency to underestimate how much rest he needs. He has the idea it’s a waste of time. He doesn’t switch off, even though he’s got better at it.

Of course you’ve heard those who think that Milos’ game is very boring to watch. What’s your response?

When I watch Kei Nishikori, I tell myself he could be even more spectacular. No? Each has their weapon. Milos works on and uses his serve as much as Kei works on and uses his backhand. Milos doesn’t need to apologise for having such a huge serve. And what’s more, he doesn’t only have that. Everyone knows that. We know those types who are two metres tall who have serves as good as Milos’ and who aren’t at his level. If the critics came to see what a Milos practice was like, maybe they’d change their minds. The are some who prefer Djoković or (Andy) Murray to Federer or Raonic. I’ll tell you right off: to me, that (Djokovic and Murray), that’s boring.

Translated by Mark Nixon