Tennis Prose



Raonic Practice Delivers Surprise Scoops


By Scoop Malinowski

I had an appointment to meet Jonas Bjorkman this morning after the practice of his man Milos Raonic on one of the outer practice courts.

Raonic is still in Delray Beach, working on his game with his team which now consists of the former top ATP player Bjorkman, Djokovic’s ex physio and another man I did not recognize.

Raonic hit with a local USTA junior named Diego for over an hour. They did the normal baseline hitting, volleys, overheads, serves and then semi points with Raonic serving, sometimes hitting the first ball back, sometimes watching it pass by. It looks like Raonic is still far off his peak game, as he should be expected to be giving how much time he missed last year due to assorted injuries.

The other junior hitting partner for the week for the ATP draw players came by to visit his pal Diego. His name is Dylan. I asked what he learned from the experience of hitting with ATP pros for the first time this week, all week long.

His reply: “Seeing how professional they all are, how hard they work and how much effort they put into preparation in the locker room. Like Raonic did fitness and stretching for an hour in the locker room to get ready for this practice. Evgeny Donskoy does fitness all day long in the locker room, then he plays his match.”

Dylan said the balls of the ATP players were different than anything he ever saw from Oliver Crawford or Patrick Kypson, two top juniors he has hit with in the past. “All the players I hit with hit soft for the first five minutes then they start to hit a totally different ball, much heavier, much stronger. Robert Lindstedt hits a really heavy ball.”

Then a SWAT team police officer came by to check out Raonic hitting. It turns out the officer is a former junior player from Long Island named Brett Gordon, who has played against Noah Rubin and Donald Young in his USTA days. Gordon said Rubin is “extremely fast” and comes from a really nice family. Young was “really explosive” and hit a massive ball in his teen years.

After Raonic finishes with Diego – they did not have any interaction or conversations that I observed – Raonic continued to work with Bjorkman, with the two physios keeping an eye on everything. Bjorkman set up balls to feed from the service line and stationed Raonic to hit inside out forhands and up the line forehands. Then another batch of balls for both forehands and backhands. To simulate core baseline points. Then Bjorkman wanted Raonic to work on volleys so he fed him about 25 straight almost rapid fire shots to his body and Raonic had to volley.

At the end of the practice, Jared Donaldson’s father and physio showed up and a few minutes later Jared arrived. He lost a close three setter to Denis Shapovalov yesterday. As Raonic sat in the corner of the court with his team in the shade, he watched Donaldson set up the footwork ladder apparatus and asked Donaldson something about where he was going next and then something about the availability of Tour level hitting partners in Los Angeles. Donaldson spoke to Raonic from a distance of about 20 yards, keeping his distance. As he spoke, Raonic and all of his team listened to and watched Donaldson, as if to gauge what kind of person he was, if he was intelligent and if he could be a threat to Raonic in the future.

Donaldson was nice to them but he kept a distance to not lose focus on his main intention on the day – “to work on fitness” as his father told me, hence why coach Jan Michael Gambill was not at the practice but still at the hotel.

Donaldson is a lanky but strong looking kid. Very serious, very focused and very driven to succeed. He did each footwork drill that his physio instructed, exactly how he was told, with no nonsense and no lack of interest or enthusiasm.

Finally, Raonic and his team left and Bjorkman kept his promise to talk about Facing Marat Safin, asking me if I did the research and checked the head to head. I admitted I did not, being too busy and asked for his forgiveness and then he proceeded to answer my questions, informing me that he played Safin several times and sharing his memories of the Russian dynamo who he said he always had to be on his toes and alert very early against because Safin was so potent and dangerous. Bjorkman said he played some of his best tennis against Safin.



  • Duke Carnoustie · February 24, 2018 at 12:29 am

    Scoop how can you not do your research?! T-P expects it.

    Great stuff, including the SWAT team. Love the men and women who protect us from harm.

    I do not think Raonic will have an easy time back. His game is predictable and even a Jack Sock has somewhat passed him. Now here come the young guns. At least Milos has that beautiful gf!

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 2:05 am

    Shapovalov is the future. So as Milos fades for Canada along comes another one.
    Hartt will be thrilled 🙂

  • Hartt · February 24, 2018 at 7:32 am

    I have not totally given up on Milos yet. It is taking him time to come back, but that does not mean he can’t do it. The big concern with Raonic continues to be getting injured.

    As far as Shapo and Felix go, it is exciting to see them come along regardless of what the future holds for Milos. Obviously what I hope for is that all 3 to do well. Denis’ match against Fritz yesterday was fun, and I’m looking forward to more matches between young players.

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Yes – I didn’t mean to be cruel about Milos but injuries take longer to recover from as years go by and he has spent what seems an awful lot of time hors de combat. Maybe he has the mind for tennis but just not the body build. So a coaching career might be a future for him if he wants it.

    It’s amazing in a way that Canada has produced Denis and Felix together – the same generation.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Catherine, did not think you were being cruel about Milos. He does not have a great body for tennis – his legs are so long they are out of proportion, and I wonder if that is a factor in the injuries.

    As far as his post tennis career goes, it sounds like he is interested in business. He is very bright in an academic sense, finishing high school at age 16 with high marks. He has talked about pursuing a business career, but has not said in what area.

    Denis and Felix coming along at the same time is interesting. Because Denis grew up in Toronto and Felix in Quebec, it was a while before they played doubles together, when they became friends as well as rivals. Then their relationship has been a definite plus, each spurring on the other to do well.

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Milos will probably end up running Nike or something like that 🙂

    Talking about Milos finishing High School, I wonder how many top players even got that far ? They start off being pros so young, boys and girls, school must seem very unimportant.

    From an earlier time, I know Chris Evert graduated from HS, and there’s always college tennis in the US, but not in Europe or Australia. Canada ?

    In Germany Andrea Petkovic finished school and did a later distance learning degree, Julia Georges did her exams but I have a feeling Angie did not. I think she left school early. Don’t know about the French.

    Venus and Sloane Stephens (!) have done the online business degree the WTA set up but it would be interesting to know where formal education stopped for the majority of pro players. And if they care.

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 24, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Huge win for Svitolina. Second set was a rout. WTA Tour very interesting at the moment.

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Svitolina wins SS in Dubai and TBH it wasn’t the most rivetting match I’ve ever seen. In fact, entertainment wise I think I’d have asked for my money back.

    But there you are – those two made the final and the others didn’t.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2018 at 11:33 am

    There is not college tennis in Canada the way there is in the US. Some Canadian players, like Brayden Schnur play college tennis in the States. In fact, Milos was already to go to college in the States when he decided to turn pro. His parents, both engineers, put a high value on education and were not thrilled with his decision. They agreed to support him, but he had to make the top 100 in a certain amount of time and also had to take college courses. When Milos did make the top 100 he got rid go his textbooks.

    From what I’ve read, I think a lot of tennis players did not finish high school. Now, one advantage of some of the tennis federation facilities and some tennis academies is that they incorporate education as part of their programs. For example, Felix plans to finish high school this spring, I think it is. The poor lamb has to finish his assignments even when he is on the road.

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Actually Duke I find the WTA supremely boring. Where’s the adventure, where’s the enterprise, the wanting to do new things ? Svitolina was good but for stretches that looked like a practice match for her, probably felt like one too. But I bet she doesn’t say so.

    I think matches should be scored like skating – marks for artistic impression, technical virtuosity etc.

    Now I’m going off to watch some serve/volley on Youtube clips 🙂

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Hartt – Andrea Petkovic’s father would not let her turn pro until she had finished school. She wasn’t pleased at the time but she probably appreciates it now as her career winds down and she has options open to her whatever she plans to do next.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    Petko is so bright it is hard to imagine her not finishing high school. She has studied political science at the university level, although I don’t know if she is still doing that.

    Youzhny is interesting when it comes to education. He started a philosophy degree in 2005 and got his PhD in 2010. His thesis topic was “Professional Tennis Players on the Court,” and he compared players. It sounds like he used the information to help him with his own game against his competitors. A smart guy!

  • catherine · February 24, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Youzhy’s PhD sounds as if it could be fascinating reading. I imagine his samples of pro players were protected by anonymity 🙂

    Andrea did a political science degree at the German equivalent of the Open University in the UK but I don’t know if she finished it. After mature consideration she decided against a political career, diplomacy not being her strong point. She said in an interview ‘I wouldn’t last a year in Germany.’
    Maybe journalism – she’s written pieces for the Suddeutsche Zeitung in the past I think.
    Or she could be a standup comedian with Kerber as her stooge.

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 24, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    It’s funny I don’t find many of the tennis players to be too bright. Like Rafa and Fed are great champions and all but I just don’t think they are the smartest people in the world. Novak seems much more intelligent, though he falls victim to quack doctors and the like.

    Not sure what to make of the WTA girls in this regard.

    Regarding college tennis, is it really any good? I think my experience has seen layers who don’t know how to volley and lack an understanding of constructing points and who play very afraid. Interesting that Anderson at the USO last year was the first Slam finalist who played college tennis since Todd Martin did it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Duke, I usually just let it play out and let the players discuss the facing aspects unless it was a very famous match, hopefully I did not miss a chance to discuss a very controversial match of Jonas vs Safin, if I did, I will just talk with him again about it in Miami.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Denis and Felix emerging at the same time could be a lot like Pete, Andre, Courier, Chang or Roddick/Fish or Moya/Corretja. They seem pretty close right now but what will happen if they play a major QF later this year? Which is very possible at the rate they are ascending.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Duke, all top tennis players are very smart, especially Ljubicic, Wilander, McEnroe, Zvonareva. I’m sure all are smart and they have developed it in the tennis realm, outside of tennis subjects I’m sure they can all handle themselves but they don’t show the public that side. I know a lot of top players like Moya and Rafa played a ton of video games and that doesn’t make them dummies. No dummy could ever crack the top 100 or 50 and stay there, it takes a lot of intelligence. Rarely do you see any pro player engage in stupid behavior or stupid activities. Some party a lot but that’s more for release and celebrating and livin large not being stupid.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 24, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Gojo has just drawn thunder down upon the Americans. It seems the German loves American tournaments as he’s got to semis of Newport last year and now finals of Delray. In fact, he’s 12-0 against American players since the onset of 2017 having beaten Opelka three times and Harry twice. In Delray, he’s cut down in a row, Izzie, Opelka and SteveJo, losing a total of one set.

    Tiafoe better hope he doesn’t beat Shapovalov else Gojo might make it a clean 13-0 against Americans. Gojo at no. 64 is right near his career-high ranking at 29 set last year of no. 60. One thing about Gojo, he’s a perfect gentleman on the court and has the best posture of any player I’ve ever seen including Djoko.

    I was a little put off by Opelka’s performance against Gojo in the quarters. At times, Opelka’s body language and effort looked like a sullen 13-year-old. He’s had his semi-break through, it’ll be interesting now to see where he goes and how he does.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    Opelka acted negative but that’s one of his tricks I believe. Down 0-2 in the first set tiebreaker, after missing the shot, he screamed yelled “I hate playing this guy, I don’t ever want to play him again!!!” Then Opelka proceeded to win the next three points in a row 🙂 But he has a tendency to act mopey and negative on the court in close, tight matches. Gojo is playing incredible tennis right now and since last year, when he beat Karlovic in Newport in three tiebreakers showed he’s an uncanny player. So Gojo has handled Isner, Ivo and now Opelka. Not too many smaller players under or at six feet can say that. I did an interview with Jay Berger about Opelka which I will post next week.

  • Chazz · February 24, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    Gojo also beat Sock in Auckland in January.

    Not much about Tiafoe-Chung, but that was an incredible match. Foe was living on the edge the whole match, I think he saved 10 of 12 break points. I was worried the rain postponement would affect him as he was up 5-3 in the 3rd at that point. And it took him 8 match points to put away Chung. It should be a great match with Shapo, two of my favorite players.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 24, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Gojo is 6-2 not a small guy.

  • Chazz · February 24, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    Shapo was not at his best, 1st serve percentage was only 56%. Still, Tiafoe was on his game and won another huge match. Big week for the young Americans.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    And now it’s Tiafoe leading the US NEXTGEN brigade. Thanks to Sebi Korda, Big Foe is back on track and calling the shots. I guess we can surmise that Sebi Korda is the real deal too just like Big Foe. Tiafoe, in case you forgot, barely beat Korda in three sets in the 1R of NY Open last week.

  • Dan Markowitz · February 24, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    What do you mean he barely beat Korda? Scoop, Tiafoe beat him 6-2 in the third set. That’s not barely beating someone.

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 25, 2018 at 12:04 am

    Amazing streak by Gojo to knock off 12 Americans in a row, though that says a lot more about the state of US tennis than anything else.

    Francis is the hottest U.S. player for sure right now. The last two weeks have been amazing. Let’s face it, he could have easily won that Anderson match and who knows if he wins that tourney. Of course that could have negatively affected him here. Suffice to say he’s done with challengers for the year.

    Delpo/Foe handshake was a bit odd how Delpo kind of brushed him off.

    My current U.S. player rankings.
    1. Tiafoe
    2. Sandgren
    3. Querrey
    4. Harrison
    5. Johnson
    6. Isner
    7. Fritz
    8. Donaldson
    9. Smyczek
    10. Mac Mac

    Interesting draw in Acapulco for the U.S. Isner faces Harrison with the winner getting Schwartzman or Verdasco.
    Johnson faces Sascha Zverev. JD plays Basilashvili with the winner facing Querrey or Ebden. Young faces Chung with the winner facing Sock or a qualifier.

    The headline 1st-rounder is Shapo v. Nishikori!

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 25, 2018 at 12:08 am

    Sandgren seeded seventh in Sao Paulo. Faces Dutra Silva (who is from Sao Paulo) in round one. Then either Kicker or Estrella Burgos. His quarter features Monfils.

    I admire him for doing the difficult thing of playing on the dirt in South America and he easily could have won that Fognini match.

  • catherine · February 25, 2018 at 6:39 am

    Going back to intelligence, which is a complex subject, I doubt the ability to hit a fuzzy ball effectively correlates highly with what most people think of as ‘bright’ but there’s no reason it should. A very specific activity.

    It’s possible that if you took a 100 top players, male and female, and assessed their overall intelligence, then the result would probably match that of the general population. The tennis players might come out better at practical tasks, like video games 🙂

    The conventionally brightest top player I can think of is Martina Navratilova – she qualifies for MENSA I believe but I’m not sure where I heard that.

    I can think of several top 10-20 players I suspect are not the sharpest tools in the box but it would be unfair to name them. And intelligence hasn’t much to do with bad behaviour, which is a different topic altogether.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Second set vs Korda was close. he lost the first set.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 8:31 am

    Tennis players direct their intelligence at playing the game of tennis which is challenging on so many levels. If you want to say it’s not an admirable pursuit, you can but I disagree. They are doing something they love to do, have overcome a lot and make a good living at it. Sure, a lot of players speak cliches in interviews and they don’t sound like philosophers or doctors or lawyers or rocket scientists when asked questions about their matches. But maybe that’s the media’s fault for asking weak questions. Tennis environment is not the right platform for players to sound super smart on TV but I think all these players are highly intelligent. Nobody becomes a top pro and wins hundreds of pro matches with stupidity or limited intelligence.

  • catherine · February 25, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Scoop – I never said playing tennis wasn’t an ‘admirable pursuit’ – I never made a

  • catherine · February 25, 2018 at 9:22 am

    Sorry – posted by mistake – but no, I never said any such thing. I was simply talking about different types of ‘intelligence’ and how it’s possible to have abilities in one area and not in another.

    I doubt anyone could be a good tennis player without at least average intelligence.

    I certainly agree about press interviews – you probably know my feelings on those. They make some players sound complete morons but that’s the fault of the questioner, not the respondent.
    I’m sure Kerber is sick to death of people asking her about last year – they do it in every interview and her answers are always the same. She should just print out a reply and distribute to the press and save everyone’s time.

    And can you imagine what Serena will be asked when she re-appears ?
    And how many times has Federer been questioned about his age etc etc ?

    But that’s the way things are and why players come over as a bit limited in their expression. Nothing to do with what I meant by ‘intelligence’.

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 25, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Actually as far as intelligence, I find the American men to be quite smart. Sandgren has showed his intelligence, Harrison in the podcast with Werthiem and John Isner too. Of course, Isner went to college. But Sandgren, Harrison and Isner we can all be proud of.

    Without being too general, I recall interacting with some French players and finding them not too intelligent. Perhaps it is their English not being too good. One player, now retired and a former Slam finalist, comes to mind though I won’t name names.

    To be fair swimmers may be the least intelligent athletes out there if you have listened to Michael Phelps speak. The NBA players and football players are also not too smart overall.

  • Hartt · February 25, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Karen Khachanov just won the Marseille trophy over Lucas Pouille. It was a Davis Cup type atmosphere, complete with drums, trumpet and tuba. There was a large group of French fans, all dressed in green, and they were especially vocal. But it was in good spirits and did not interfere with the match. Karen did not seem bothered and poor Lucas got tight and was broken to give Karen the win.

    Both players are scheduled to play in Dubai, in fact Lucas is the No. 2 seed, so it will be interesting to see if they actually play. During the ceremony Lucas said they’d had a joke and that Karen should pay for the flight to Dubai. Maybe they could split the cost of a private jet!

    This is Khachanov’s second career title. It looks like he is turning things around after a slide down the rankings. Someone said he will be at No. 41, so he still has work to do to get back to his career high of No. 29, but at least he is going in the right direction now.

  • Duke Carnoustie · February 25, 2018 at 1:30 pm


    Excellent report and it sounds like a thriller. Khachanov is a player on the rise; he had a great run there and played very well at RG last year.

    Interestingly, Khachanov and Pouille could meet in round two in Dubai if both remain in the tournament. Pouille’s first opponent? A qualifier named Ernests Gulbis!

  • Hartt · February 25, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    I was doing some research on Khachanov. It turned up a couple interesting bits of info, especially in light of the discussion about players’ intelligence. I think it is difficult to gauge the intelligence of someone we don’t know personally. And even more difficult if that person is speaking in a 2nd or 3rd language. If you have learned a 2nd language but aren’t actually fluent, you know that you express yourself in simpler terms than in your native tongue.

    But we can see what education a player has, and if he/she reads books. I knew Karen was working on a degree in Physical Education from Moscow University, doing courses online and his exams in Moscow. But had not realised that he is close to completing it. He is only 21, and has a lot of demands on his time from tennis, not to mention being married. so this is quite an accomplishment. He likes to read, so he gets major points for that, and he and Rublev play chess. He speaks excellent English and when he was in Barcelona was learning Spanish. So he knows at least 3 languages. An impressive young man.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Catherine, my philosophy is all people are smart in some areas and dumb or unlearned about other areas. Nobody knows it all except those Knowitalls 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Sandgren is very smart, we chatted for 30 minutes after he beat Opelka in Sarasota last April, he’s very smart, clever, informed and actually careful to not say some things that liberals can’t handle. So he dances around it in and uses metaphors and code, which is a sign of intelligence. Harrison is also very bright smart and also a good speaker. Isner is no dummy. The French guys are all smart, never recall thinking any of the French were not smart and I’ve interviewed them all.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Hartt, All the Russians are sharp, men and women, they almost all pursue education while they play pro tennis. Interesting that Khachanov is doing it already as he is just 21. How about Diego Schwartzman winning Rio and cracking the top 20. I told you he could be top ten but everybody laughed.

  • Hartt · February 25, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I was so impressed with Diego winning that title. Because it was on at the same time as Delray Beach, I just had one eye on the Rio match. But from what I saw, Schwartzman was very steady and poor Verdasco, oldie that he is, was running on fumes. But good for Fernando to win the doubles title.

    Your prediction about Diego may well come true.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    I was first wowed by Schwartzman when he came back from the dead to beat Dimitrov in the Istanbul final. Then he wowed me again when he killed Ferrer in Miami last year 61 62 in the afternoon on court 2. Then we did a Biofile after and I was struck by his intelligence and interesting answers. He can play with the elite titans and he just keeps going up up and up the rankings steadily. He does not look all that special but he is solid in all departments and gets the job done and keeps winning. he knows how to win. WTF in London is possible.



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