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Victorious Raonic hopes for climb in ATP rankings

SAP Open winner Milos Raonic hopes to climb to within the top ten in the world tennis rankings this year. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

George Nikitin/AP

Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic is brimming with confidence after a successful title defence at the SAP Open.

He's hoping his strong start to the season will give him the boost he needs as he tries to reach the upper echelon on the ATP World Tour. Raonic hasn't put a specific number on his goal, but feels he has a chance to reach the top 10 in the world rankings in 2012.

"That's where I want to be by the end of the year," Raonic said Monday on a conference call. "I don't think there's anything that really tells me that I don't belong there."

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Raonic defeated Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6 (3), 6-2 in Sunday's final in San Jose, Calif., for his second tournament win of the season. Next up for the 21-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., is a stop at this week's World Tour 500 event in Memphis.

Raonic was a wild-card entry at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships last year. He made it all the way to the final before falling in a three-set thriller to veteran American Andy Roddick.

This year the world No. 35, down three spots in the most recent rankings, will be one of the favourites at the US$1.115-million event.

"I feel just in general my confidence is growing, my respect from the other players is growing," said Raonic. "It's just coming together nicely."

Raonic has the fourth seed this week. He won in Chennai, India, earlier this year and now has three career singles titles.

He came up short against veteran Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in the third round at the Australian Open but bounced back with an impressive effort in San Jose, where his cannon-like serve was giving opponents fits.

Raonic rose to as high as No. 25 in the rankings last year — the highest ever for a Canadian — before a hip injury at Wimbledon cut his season short.

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He was hampered by a left knee injury in Canada's loss to France at this month's Davis Cup but an MRI exam did not reveal any serious issues.

Doctors told Raonic the swelling was due to general "wear and tear" and that he would not be at risk by playing through it. In the meantime, he has been performing daily leg strengthening exercises and is taking painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication.

Raonic will open against world No. 70 Ernests Gulbis of Latvia on Wednesday.

"I've gotten a lot of good wins, I'm beating guys I feel I should beat," Raonic said. "I'm also playing well against the top guys. The only really unfortunate match was the one against Hewitt, which I felt I could have played better, but it's a learning experience.

"I feel like I'm taking care of the matches I need to take care of, I feel like I'm improving."

Raonic's game is rounding into form. His booming serve is complemented with steady baseline play and confident volleys.

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"My match results are not always directly dependent on my service games," he said. "I feel like I'm also able to put pressure on the return games."

Raonic actually fell three places in the latest world rankings, a drop that was due in part to a schedule change. The Memphis tournament was played a week earlier in 2011, so those points are no longer included in his total.

American John Isner — who rose one position to No. 13 — will be the top seed this week. Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Belarusian partner Max Mirnyi are back to defend their men's doubles title and Vancouver's Rebecca Marino will play in the women's singles competition.

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