Milos Raonic: ‘We … Need To Look At What Is Our Next Step’

WASHINGTON, August 28, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

On Wednesday night, Canadian No. 3 Milos Raonic fought off one match point on serve, then broke his Serbian opponent, Filip Krajinovic, and served out his quarterfinal match that earned him a hard-fought 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 win. It advanced the World No. 30 to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in New York.

However, when Raonic, a Thornhill, Ont., native who was born in Podgorica, Montenegro, before emigrating to Canada as a young child, walked off the Grandstand court to take care of his media obligations, it turned out he had a lot he wanted to talk about. His two hour and 42-minute battle against Krajinovic, which set up a semifinal showdown with World No. 6 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, was merely an ice breaker for more important matters – namely, responding to the news of Naomi Osaka‘s decision earlier Wednesday evening to pull out of her semifinal match on Thursday in the name of taking a stand against racial inequality and social injustice.

Raonic was still in his red and grey New Balance match kit as he arrived for his virtual press conference. He was unaware of Osaka’s news. However, once he was asked about it by New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, it became very apparent that he was immediately supportive of Osaka’s choice as well as a desire to see other tennis players escalate their level of activism. He said, “It’s about taking a small step and then looking to take the next small step.”

Raonic said he considered not playing his quarterfinal match against Krajinovic, after seeing what the National Basketball Association had done in support of Black Lives Matter earlier in the day.

“There were parts of me that did think about it today before my match,” he said. “But the way tennis is structured, it’s a walkover and another person continues.

“Right now, I’m 30 in the world, so not many people are going to care what I do. It would be the same thing as if a fifth guy on a (basketball) team stepped out for a game. Kyrie (Irving) sitting out – I think it makes a difference, and it makes a point. But clearly it’s not getting the job done.”

In each of his virtual press conferences this week, Raonic has come across as both articulate and empathetic. He chooses his words carefully and isn’t afraid to speak what’s on his mind. It’s refreshing that he’s willing to engage the media on why he hasn’t cut his hair since before the Australian Open, his concern about his health and that of his parents, whom he has not been able to visit since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

As he continued in his back-and-forth with Rothenberg and others, such as Canadian tennis writer Stephanie Myles, whose Open Court website chronicles the pro tennis tours, Raonic said he believes that bigger gestures are needed from the pro tennis community.

“Real disruption, I think that’s what makes change … to really make a difference, it has to be a banding together of athletes,” he said.

“I think it’s not about the three guys that are left in this tournament, I think it’s about everybody being on the same page. If four guys step up tomorrow but everything continues as normal on Monday when the U.S. Open starts, have we taken that next small step …?”

Raonic feels it takes a larger group of voices from within tennis to be most effective.

“Just like you would build up a tennis career, you have to build up the movement with small progressive steps – trying to be better each day and make a bigger difference each day.

“I think small steps are effective – if you follow up. It’s not just about taking one small step and then being like, ‘Hey, I’ve done my part.’ It’s about taking a small step and then looking to take the net small step.

“With a lot of people opting out in the NBA, I think those are first small steps,” said Raonic, who is a Toronto Raptors fan. “Wearing the shirt, speaking about it. I think (today), this is the next step. We as players, the ATP and WTA Tour, need to look at what is our next step.”

About an hour after Raonic finished his virtual press conference, the USTA, ATP Tour and WTA issued a joint statement to announce that the Western & Southern Open would pause play on Thursday to take “a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States.” 

Social protest aside, right now, everything seems to be falling in place for the six-foot-five-inch Raonic. He’s finally free of injuries and isn’t worried about winning or losing ATP rankings points.

“Something as simple as that,” he said after beating Andy Murray earlier this week, “just really gives me the freedom to play with the right intention and the right mindset.” 

Tennis Canada: Supporting of meaningful change

On Thursday, Jennifer Bishop, Chair of Tennis Canada, issued a statement in support of the stance taken by the USTA, WTA and ATP Tour – led by Naomi Osaka – to pause play.

“There remains plenty of work to be done and we look forward to taking on whatever role we can within our sport to be agents of meaningful change,” Tennis Canada wrote on Twitter.

The ITF shows its support, too

The Bryan Brothers: A tribute

On Wednesday night, Bob and Mike Bryan closed one of the great careers in the history of tennis when they announced their retirement.

What they’re photographing

What they’re sharing on social media

Marie Bouzkova / It’s here!

Johanna Konta / Cincy smiles

Summer holidays with the Federers