Milos Raonic may be known for his big, booming serve and slick, swooping hairdo, but the 23-year-old means business when it comes to all aspects of his game. He's worked on his nutrition, focused his mental and physical training and fine-tuned his serving weapon after reaching the final of the Rogers Cup a year ago and losing to Roger Federer in both the semifinals at Wimbledon in July and the Western & Southern Open last week.
SI.com sat down with Raonic to get the scoop on his fitness and nutrition, his love for basketball and of course, what he's been doing since his loss to Federer to prepare for his favorite Grand Slam tournament of the year -- the U.S. Open.
SI.com: Do you have any pre-match or on-court superstitions?
Raonic: I don’t know if I have any, because I’ve learned one thing about superstitions – it doesn’t mean you’re going to win, it just means you’re not going to play bad. I used to have this superstition where I had to eat steak every night before I played, and my nutritionist told me don’t do that. So after I lost that one the other ones fell off pretty quickly.
SI.com: What about on the court? Do you do anything special before a game or before a serve?
Raonic: Breathing. But it’s more like a routine instead of a superstition, to keep my mind busy and away from maybe getting the nerves of the situation and something just to keep me occupied.
SI.com: You mentioned your nutritionist -- how has that changed your game?
Raonic: I've been working with my nutritionist for about two and a half years now, but I made the biggest changes in December 2013. Now I don’t eat beef. I don’t eat tuna or salmon too often, just because of mercury concentration. I stay away from gluten and most nuts. There are specific fruits I stay away from – I just don’t react well to some – and tomatoes and a few things that we found that don’t work with my body. It’s difficult with tennis because we travel so much, and you’re ending up eating at restaurants and you don’t always feel comfortable asking off menu.
SI.com: What's a typical meal for you?
Raonic: I try to change it up. I love sushi, but I won’t eat sushi before I play. Maybe I’ll have a light side of it. I will eat a lot of chicken and white fish, but smaller types of fish that aren’t so concentrated in mercury. I’ll stick with those with vegetables as my carbs, and I’ll eat more rice and potatoes when it’s closer to the match. But the night before I try to keep it light on the carbs.
SI.com: I’ve noticed you follow basketball a lot. Why?
Raonic: Oh, I love it. It’s a team sport, but I think the one thing I love about it is it can be taken over by one player, whereas you don’t have that really in other teams sports. It’s difficult in hockey because of how often shift changes are, it’s impossible in soccer, in baseball also it’s very difficult – maybe a pitcher can take over a game but they don’t play every game -- so that’s one thing. And also, I think the athleticism is unbelievable. The guys are great in lateral movement, frontal movement, athletically they’re great, they’re strong and have to take physical beatings as well, with the body-to-body contact. I really enjoy watching it.
SI.com: Did you play basketball growing up?
Raonic: No, I always just shot around but I never played. Even in Canada I never even played ice hockey. I never skated in my life, I always did rollerblade street hockey.
SI.com: And do you follow the NBA?
Raonic: Yes – the Toronto Raptors. But even though I like when a player can take over a game, I’m a big fan of the Spurs “system” because I like it when there’s a system behind something, rather than a free-for-all.
SI.com: Since your loss to Federer in the semifinal, what has your training been like? Are you focusing on something in particular?
Raonic: I’ve been playing pretty good tennis this summer, so we’ve just been trying to fine tune things and not really change anything in the moment. And what we focus more on now is fitness. I start using this one week to get the fitness level a step or two above, so that can carry me out through two weeks. That’s when you’ll see the pay off. You won’t see a difference in the first week but if I can make it through the later stages, those things I’m doing now will start to pay off.
SI.com: What type of training to you do to keep up your fitness? Any secret workout or go-to exercise?
Raonic: To tell you the truth, I travel with a fitness player 250 days of the year. He does all of that thinking for me. It’s always stuff that is specifically for me. Where I might have some imbalances, where I might have lost some range of motion or some strength or some mobility stability. We’re always adjusting. For me a big thing, because I have really long legs, is core stability. It’s very important not only for injury but also just to be able to carry my weight around properly and not feel like I’m collapsing in specific situations when I’m stretched out too far.
SI.com: You mentioned that the U.S. Open is your favorite tournament. What is your favorite part about coming to New York to play?
Raonic: I have a lot of friends here. I love the North American lifestyle and I spent a lot of my free time here and it’s sort of my vacation spot. Also, the energy you can get out [at the U.S. Open]. It’s a little more rowdy which I enjoy because I love going to basketball games that have the same energy. It doesn’t happen during points, but in between points and games it gets a little more rowdy and exciting. My friends come out from New York and they can get very loud and it makes everything a little bit more fun.