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Milos Raonic of Canada plays a backhand in his third round match against Mikhail Youzhny of Russia during day six of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A Canadian's flirtation with tennis greatness has roused countrymen in the year that post-Olympic doldrums were supposed to set in. Milos Raonic is a prime example of multiculturalism.

Canadians are proud that Raonic calls Thornhill, Ont., his home. At 20, Raonic, who reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in a match that received rare national TV coverage, also carries with him a sizable portion of the world.

By his own recollection, Raonic was born in former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and emigrated with parents Dusan and Vesna - both engineers - at 3 in 1994. His idol in tennis growing up was American Pete Sampras.

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He has grandparents who still live in the little Balkan country, where he often visits. An uncle, Branimir Gvozdenovic, was vice-premier of the young republic. He trained in Tennis Canada's programs in Toronto and Montreal, then moved to Barcelona, to train with Spanish player and coach Galo Blanco and turned pro in 2008. His biggest weapon, he says, is his powerful serve - not hard to believe from a 6-foot-5, 200-pound court giant. What he doesn't have in mobility he makes up for in strength. He had 31 aces in the third round against Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 21 in the second round against Michael Llodra and 27 in the first round against Bjorn Phau.

Through three rounds, he was the most powerful server, hitting 230 kilometres an hour on the speed gun, and boosted his ranking from No. 152 in the world entering the Australian Open to inside the top 100 by the time it's done.

"I feel like I serve like probably one of the top guys on the tour," Raonic said before his fourth-round match with Spaniard David Ferrer, ranked No. 7 in the world.

"It allows me to play more freely also on the return games, because I know most of the time I will be holding. ... I feel it also puts more pressure on the other guy, knowing if I do get up a break, there's a good chance I could serve out a set."

Slavic-born athletes are known for their emotions, but Raonic was able to keep his in check going to the fourth round, playing his technical and power games, rather than a temper-fuelled game.

"I'm not getting angry. That's the thing. It's not like I'm hiding. I'm not getting angry. I'm seeing everything clearer, able to play the big points better instead of being sporadic, getting more caught up in the previous points," he said.

"I'm able to think point by point next point, sort of try to figure out what I want to do, try to dictate as much as I can."

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That's not to say he is without any Montenegran characteristics, he said in an interview as reporters scrambled to learn about the Canadian who was upsetting his way through the table.

"When I was younger, I was very lazy, [that's what]they say about people from Montenegro. They also say they're smart, so I did well in school. This is a good thing.

"In Canada I've learned a lot of things. For the tennis, it was definitely a benefit for why I'm here, and also from the support of Tennis Canada. It also taught me a lot about cultures. It's been able to provide me a better transition to all the travelling through different cultures and stuff, because you have a lot of diversity in Canada."

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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