One of the things I enjoy about watching up-and-comers on the ATP tour is how fast they can climb the rankings. With few points to defend, a semifinal showing at an ATP 250 can be worth several ranking places, and a young player can string together several weeks like that.
This time last year, Milos Raonic did that (and much more) in January and February. He started the season with a ranking of 156. By the time he got to Indian Wells, he was up to 37. He amassed nearly 800 points in a six-week span starting in Melbourne qualifying and ending in Memphis. That’s more than half of his current point total, even after taking the title yesterday in Chennai and returning to his career-high ranking of 25.
In other words, Milos has his work cut out for him if he’d like to stay in the top 30. At last year’s Australian Open, he beat Michael Llodra and Dr. Mikhail Youzhny en route to the round of 16. Making it that far will be easier this year, since he’ll be seeded, but he’s still likely to face a top-16 player in the third round. In San Jose, he won his first title, claiming 250 points thanks mainly to his beating Fernando Verdasco on an indoor hard court. The next week, he racked up another 300 points for reaching the final in Memphis, this time beating both Verdasco and Mardy Fish.
The main advantage Raonic has this year is his ranking. He wasn’t seeded at a tour-level event until late March, at the Miami Masters. He had to defeat seeded players in the second and third rounds in Melbourne, then in the first rounds of Johannesburg, San Jose, and Memphis. In 2012, it should be much easier going in the early rounds.
At the very least, then, Raonic won’t fall too far. If all he does is play up to his seeding, he’ll reach the third round in Melbourne, then the quarters or semis in San Jose and Memphis. That won’t be enough to defend all of his points, but it will keep him on the fringes of the top 32 long enough to build his rankings at the tournaments he missed last year. Let Milos loose on the North American hard court circuit, and it isn’t difficult to imagine him cracking the top ten.