Milos Raonic has had nearly a month to digest his Wimbledon semi-final loss to Roger Federer. But even after all that time, the sting still lingers.
"I'm still pretty angry about it," Raonic said of the straight-sets loss to the Swiss star.
It was the first Grand Slam semi-final for the hard-serving player from Thornhill, Ont., who reached a career-high sixth in the world rankings. Now ranked seventh, he says the disappointment of not advancing to the final at the All-England Club has left him with extra incentive heading into the hard-court season.
"Out of all the ranking climbs that I've made over the past three years that have been significant to me, it's probably the one that I enjoyed the least because I felt that I could have done much better in that situation," said Raonic, who returns to the court this week at the Citi Open.
Raonic arrived in Washington last Friday — five days ahead of his opening match — rested and rejuvenated but with the July 4 loss to Federer still fresh in his mind. The Canadian is seeded second, behind only fifth-ranked Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
"It's been a lot of frustration, anger and disappointment, specifically to that semifinal, and it's actually sort of transformed into a lot of energy to do better, to work harder and now it's got me really excited," said Raonic. "It makes me want to play that much more badly and get through these next tournaments."
The Citi Open is the first of three straight hard-court events for Raonic, who returns home to Toronto next week for the Rogers Cup before playing in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati the week after.
That Raonic is heading into the hard-court season with extra motivation and a newfound confidence is a potentially scary thought for the rest of ATP Tour.
"I have more belief in what I can do and the kind of damage that I can make," said Raonic, who has won 82 per cent of his first-serve points this year, second-most on tour, and is third with 567 aces in 34 matches.
"I can make guys feel uncomfortable whether they're ranked No.1 in the world or No. 50. I don't think anybody enjoys playing me so I have a lot more understanding of that and how to use that to my advantage."
Prior to his semifinal run on the grass courts at Wimbledon, Raonic also reached the quarter-finals on the clay courts of the French Open. Overall, the 23-year-old compiled a 16-7 record on grass and clay this spring, after going 8-8 over the same stretch a year ago.
Combine the recent success in Europe with Raonic's past performances on hard courts and he says "this is the most eager" he's ever felt heading into his favourite time of year.
"It's the best thing for my game," he said of the hard courts and the typically hot and humid playing conditions that accompany the North American summer schedule. "After spending four months of tennis where I'm adjusting to playing the surface, this is a surface where I'm comfortable and where I don't have to worry about 'Okay in this situation, I have to hit this kind of shot.' (On hard courts) I have that stuff ingrained in myself naturally."
Raonic's coach, former world No.3 Ivan Ljubicic, also sees the hard-court season as a tremendous opportunity for Raonic to close the gap with the game's elite and to potentially breakthrough with his first career Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
"His level is much higher than at this time last year," said Ljubicic, who challenged Raonic last August to "save" his 2013 season with a strong tournaments in Montreal, Cincinnati and New York.
"He's shown recently that he's better able to handle certain situations — the pressure situations — very well," he said. "He's got the type of personality and character where he feels more comfortable with a higher ranking, where he doesn't feel the pressure. If anything, he has more hunger to do better."
Raonic now has his sights set on defending his ranking points at the Rogers Cup — he reached the final in Montreal last year before falling to Rafael Nadal — and building towards a strong U.S. Open. He is also eyeing his first career top-5 world ranking.
"I think there's a big opening," Raonic said of joining Nadal and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic among the top-5. "The biggest threshold and the biggest barrier or wall to pass is the one that Novak and Rafa have on the 1-2 spots. But I think that the rest of the parts, this year specifically, are up for grabs."