More than 250,000 Canadians visit Palm Beach County every winter, so Milos Raonic should feel right at home among the snowbirds at the Delray Beach Open next week.
Raonic, the world’s fourth-ranked tennis player, is a Serbian-Canadian and the highest-ranked player in tournament history, ahead of Andy Roddick (2003) and James Blake (2007), who came in at No. 6. He has been eager to play in Delray for many years, but it never seemed to work out.
In 2010, Raonic tried to break into the tournament field, but was ranked 361 and didn’t make the cut. Last year, he was ranked No. 11 heading into the event and would have been the top seed. But he injured an adductor muscle in an epic loss to Andy Murray at the Australian Open, so he had to withdraw from Delray.
This year, he is the top seed again, and looking forward to his opening match Feb. 21 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. He hasn’t played since re-injuring the adductor in Australia last month.
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“I’m very excited to play there, and create a new storyline,” Raonic told reporters on a conference call last week. “There’s a huge Canadian contingency down there. It’s a tournament I’ve always wanted to play.”
The 32-man Delray field also includes four previous tournament champions -- Argentine star Juan Martin del Potro, big server Ivo Karlovic, Delray Beach resident Kevin Anderson and Tommy Haas. American Sam Querrey, the defending champion, was given a wild card. Nineteenth-ranked American Jack Sock is also playing, as is the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.
Delray is a popular stop and typically draws some marquee players because the weather is nice, the beaches are nearby, and it is a kick-off for the North American outdoor season. Players use it as a tune-up for Indian Wells and the Miami Open in Key Biscayne, which runs March 20 to April 2.
Raonic is coming off a standout 2016 season, during which he reached the Wimbledon final – the first Canadian Grand Slam finalist – and finished the year ranked a career-high No. 3.
Determined to improve his net play, Raonic in December hired 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. Raonic, who stands 6-5, is known for his serve and booming forehand. He wants to add variety to his game.
“I have to make those top guys feel uncomfortable,” Raonic said. “As soon as you start giving them the same scenarios too many times, they adjust amazingly well. What I needed to add to my game was not only serving and following up with the big forehand, but to get myself forward and take time away from them, make them always feel I could take that step forward so they’re never feeling like they can leave a ball sitting in the middle of the court.”
Before the main ATP draw begins on Monday, tennis fans can watch retired players in the ATP Champions Tour. The USA team includes Mardy Fish, James Blake, and Vince Spadea. The international team is Fernando Gonzalez (Chile), Boca Raton resident Sebastien Grosjean (France), and Vero Beach resident Mikael Pernfors (Sweden).
For ticket information, call 561-330-6000 or go to yellowtennisball.com