Mighty Milos!

The Canadian Press
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Milos Raonic of Canada stretches to return against Pablo Andujar of Spain at the U.S. Open Tennis tournament on Aug. 29. 

Tennis player Raonic voted Canada’s male athlete of the year

TORONTO — Milos Raonic entered uncharted territory for a Canadian men’s tennis player this year, reaching the top 10 in the world singles rankings and leading the Davis Cup team to unprecedented heights.

He also won two tournaments in 2013 and thrilled Canadian fans by reaching the final of the Rogers Cup last summer. He capped his impressive year Thursday by winning the Lionel Conacher Award as the 2013 Canadian Press male athlete of the year.

Raonic made some big strides this year despite going through some early-season struggles and a coaching change.

“The fact that I was performing under those circumstances when things weren’t the best leading into those events, it’s really great for me,” he said. “It’s what I’m most proud of.”

The Conacher award is named after the multi-sport athlete who was chosen Canada’s athlete of the first half-century. The winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year will be announced Friday and the team of the year will be named Saturday.

Raonic finished with 45 per cent of the vote in balloting of sports editors and broadcasters across the country. Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish was well back at 22 per cent, followed by golfer Graham DeLaet (13 per cent) and figure skater Patrick Chan (eight per cent).

“Raonic had the most successful year in the history of Canadian tennis and his outstanding performance in the Davis Cup played a leading role in the country’s semifinal appearance,” said Yahoo Canada’s Steve McAllister. “Raonic’s climb up the ATP Tour rankings happens in an era that features more depth than ever before.”

Raonic finished second in last year’s voting behind cyclist Ryder Hesjedal. He’s the first men’s tennis player to win the award, which dates back to 1932.

“To have them vote (for) me and tell my story back home and being so positive about it, it’s really great to see,” Raonic said when reached after a training session in Monte Carlo. “To (be) recognized through an award like this means a lot to me.”

A number of women’s tennis players have won the Rosenfeld Award over the years. Aleksandra Wozniak was the last to do so, taking the honour in 2009.

Raonic won indoor hardcourt tournaments in Bangkok and San Jose and finished with a 45-21 singles record this season, picking up more than US$1.72 million in prize money along the way.

Known for his booming serve, the six-foot-five Raonic showed improvement in other facets of his game in 2013. His ground strokes, backhand and net play were stronger and that helped him to some big victories.

Raonic was ranked 15th at the start of the year and hovered in the teens for most of the season. He rose to a career-high No. 10 in early August before falling to No. 11, where he has remained since.

He won the San Jose title for the third straight year last February after beating Tommy Haas in the final. Raonic also helped the Davis Cup team to wins over Spain and Italy as he endured a stretch of middling results on tour.

The Canadian’s power game has always been most effective on hardcourts but Raonic enjoyed some success on clay this season as well, reaching the semifinals at Barcelona in April before falling to Rafael Nadal. However, he struggled on the grass courts and made a second-round exit at Wimbledon.

Raonic managed an injury-free season for the first time since joining the tour and was able to fight through that early-season inconsistency.

“I learned for the first time in the first three years of my career how to deal with the tough moments,” he said. “Not any moments disrupted by injury or anything, just like a little bit of a slump, let’s say. It gave me a lot of experience and it’s helped me grow a lot.

“It’s great from the educational side, but then also the way I turned around the second half of the year and really gave myself an opportunity to achieve my goal.”

Raonic made a coaching change in the spring with Ivan Ljubicic replacing Galo Blanco, who spent more than two years in the position. An adjustment phase followed before Raonic really got the country’s attention with an impressive performance at the Rogers Cup.

With Ljubicic pushing him to play a more aggressive, higher-risk game, Raonic responded with wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil before losing to Nadal in the final.

It was a rare run of homegrown success at the country’s biggest tennis event as Raonic became the first Canadian to reach the championship match in more than 50 years. He lists qualifying for the final in Montreal — his first Masters 1000 final appearance — and reaching the Davis Cup semifinal as his standout moments.

“The fact that I was able to execute and bring my level up in those moments and to do well, it’s important to me,” Raonic said.

The Canadian made it to the fourth round of the U.S. Open in September and pushed Richard Gasquet the distance before falling in a four-hour 40-minute marathon.

A trip to Serbia soon followed as Canada continued its historic run in the Davis Cup World Group with its first-ever semifinal appearance. Raonic, who was 5-1 at the international team event in 2013, got by Janko Tipsarevic before losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic, and the host side later won the deciding match.

“It’s really been great what we put together this year,” Raonic said. “Doing it in tight moments, doing it at home in Canada and playing well. So really it’s special for us to share this moment as a team considering how individual of a sport we are.

“To see four, five, six Canadians doing well, it’s a lot more motivating for a country than just to see one.”

After the Serbia loss, Raonic came out gunning at his next tour event in Bangkok. He avenged the Gasquet loss and then beat Tomas Berdych for his second tournament win of the year.

Raonic is still trying to break through against the sport’s elite. He has won two of three career meetings against Andy Murray but is a combined 0-13 against Nadal, Djokovic, David Ferrer and Roger Federer.

However, Raonic — who turns 23 on Friday — has age on his side. He’s the first player born in the 1990s and the first Canadian to crack the top 10 in the men’s singles world rankings.

“He’s one of the most focused guys on tour,” said Davis Cup teammate Daniel Nestor. “Someone who is (turning) 23, I think his maturity is far beyond his years.

“He’s really impressive with his positive attitude and real focus and drive to be a champion.”

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., has spent the last few weeks training for warmup events ahead of the Australian Open next month. He also has his eye on Canada’s Davis Cup tie against Japan in late January.

“I think it’s just about development,” he said of the upcoming season. “Getting better day in and day out and picking up experience through matches, making sure that I’m making the progress and that I’m pushing myself every day, which I do already.

“I think it’s just about time and I’ve got to keep working away.”

Raonic wants to crack the top six in the world rankings next year, go deeper in the Grand Slam events and qualify for the eight-man ATP World Tour Finals.

“Even as a junior, he was just aiming high,” said Davis Cup coach Martin Laurendeau. “He wanted to be a top-10 player and even beyond that and he just believed it. It was just a matter of giving him the time and opportunities to be able to do that.

“His dream is coming true. I know that he’s not happy or satisfied with No. 10 or No. 11 — he wants to go higher and I think he will.”

 

QUICK LOOK

TORONTO — A quick look at tennis player Milos Raonic, winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as the 2013 Canadian Press male athlete of the year:

Born: Dec. 27, 1990.

Hometown: Thornhill, Ont.

Size: Six foot five, 195 pounds.

2013 Highlights: Reached the final of the Rogers Cup and guided the Canadian team to a semifinal appearance in the Davis Cup.

Last season: Raonic won two tournaments and became the first Canadian to reach the top 10 in the world men’s singles rankings.

Quote: “I learned for the first time in the first three years of my career how to deal with the tough moments. Not any moments disrupted by injury or anything, just like a little bit of a slump, let’s say. It gave me a lot of experience and it’s helped me grow a lot. It’s great from the educational side, but then also the way I turned around the second half of the year and really gave myself an opportunity to achieve my goal.”

 

Vote breakdown

TORONTO — Sports editors and broadcasters across the country have selected tennis player Milos Raonic as Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year. Here is the vote breakdown:

Milos Raonic: 45 per cent

Jon Cornish: 22 per cent

Graham DeLaet: 13 per cent

Patrick Chan: 8 per cent

Georges St-Pierre: 6 per cent

Others: 6 per cent

 

Lionel Conacher Award winners

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO — Winners of the Lionel Conacher Award, given out by The Canadian Press to the Canadian male athlete of the year:

2013 — Milos Raonic, tennis

2012 — Ryder Hesjedal, cycling

2011 — Patrick Chan, figure skating

2010 — Sidney Crosby, hockey

2009 — Sidney Crosby, hockey

2008 — Justin Morneau, baseball

2007 — Sidney Crosby, hockey

2006 — Steve Nash, basketball

2005 — Steve Nash, basketball

2004 — Kyle Shewfelt, gymnastics

2003 — Mike Weir, golf

2002 — Steve Nash, basketball

2001 — Mike Weir, golf

2000 — Mike Weir, golf

1999 — Wayne Gretzky named Athlete of the Century (no athlete of the year)

1998 — Larry Walker, baseball

1997 — Jacques Villeneuve, auto racing

1996 — Donovan Bailey, track and field

1995 — Jacques Villeneuve, auto racing

1994 — Elvis Stojko, figure skating

1993 — Mario Lemieux, hockey

1992 — Mark Tewksbury, swimming

1991 — Kurt Browning, figure skating

1990 — Kurt Browning, figure skating

1989 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1988 — Mario Lemieux, hockey

1987 — Ben Johnson, track and field

1986 — Ben Johnson, track and field

1985 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1984 — Alex Baumann, swimming

1983 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1982 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1981 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1980 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1979 — Gilles Villeneuve, auto racing

1978 — Graham Smith, swimming

1977 — Guy Lafleur, hockey

1976 — Greg Joy, track and field

1975 — Bobby Clarke, hockey

1974 — Ferguson Jenkins, baseball

1973 — Phil Esposito, hockey

1972 — Phil Esposito, hockey

1971 — Ferguson Jenkins, baseball

1970 — Bobby Orr, hockey

1969 — Russ Jackson, football

1968 — Ferguson Jenkins, baseball

1967 — Ferguson Jenkins, baseball

1966 — Bobby Hull, hockey

1965 — Bobby Hull, hockey

1964 — Bill Crothers, track and field

1963 — Gordie Howe, hockey

1962 — Bruce Kidd, track and field

1961 — Bruce Kidd, track and field

1960 — Ron Stewart, football

1959 — Russ Jackson, football

1958 — Maurice Richard, hockey

1957 — Maurice Richard, hockey

1956 — Jean Beliveau, hockey

1955 — Normie Kwong, football

1954 — Rich Ferguson, track and field

1953 — Doug Hepburn, weightlifting

1952 — Maurice Richard, hockey

1951 — No Award

1950 — Lionel Conacher Named Athlete of Half Century (No Athlete of the Year)

1949 — Frank Filchock, football

1948 — Buddy O’Connor, hockey

1947 — Joe Krol, football

1946 — Joe Krol, football

1942-45 — No Awards During Second World War

1941 — Tony Golab, football

1940 — Gerard Cote, track and field

1939 — Fritz Hanson, football

1938 — Hugh (Bummer) Stirling, football

1937 — Syl Apps, hockey

1936 — Phil Edwards, track and field

1935 — Rober (Scotty) Rankine, track and field

1934 — Harold Webster, track and field

1933 — Dave Komonen, track and field

1932 — Sandy Somerville, golf

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