Even if you’re not a tennis fan, you’ve likely heard about the remarkable rise of Milos Raonic. Last night the 21-year-old GTA native took a set off of Roger Federer before ultimately falling to the Swiss legend. He’s won two tournaments already in 2012 and is the highest ranked male Canadian player of all-time in singles play.
Commentator and former world No 1 John McEnroe practically gushes when talking about Raonic. Sports Illustrated wrote that he “will win majors” one day (note the “s”) last month. In short, the kid’s the real deal and is poised to be a superstar playing one of the world’s most popular games.
Raonic is eligible to represent Montenegro. Although he has lived in Canada for most of his life—for all of the life he can possibly remember, having moved here when he was three – many Canadian tennis fans fear that he will switch his loyalty. Although tennis is a popular participation sport here in Canada, it is far bigger in Montenegro. The thinking is that he has a greater potential for fame and glory outside of Canada.
This is where Raonic’s story is relevant to Canadian soccer (as an aside, Raonic is also a big soccer fan – something the TFC front office might want to make note of). We don’t need to provide the laundry list of names that have left the Canadian fold to pursue what they see as a better opportunity elsewhere. Canadian fans can only dream of hearing one of those guys say what Raonic did when asked about his future national loyalty after a match at the Australian Open.
“I want to make a singles career, I enjoy it more and I want to make a difference in Canada with it. I feel if I were to achieve my goals it could make a great difference to the growth of tennis in Canada and help to produce more top players in the future.”
The thing is – and this is a point that I’ve made in the past and have been derided for – the choice of staying Canadian is probably also better for his marketability. Staying Canadian also would have been better for the marketability of any of the unmentioned soccer players too.
Think about it. Raonic is already close to a household name in this country and he is only ranked No 27 in the world. As McEnroe said on the broadcast last night Raonic is the infamous big fish in a small pond. It would be the same if, say, a kid from Calgary ever signed for Manchester United.
If such a kid existed, he would have a massive profile in a country desperate for a global superstar in a game it is starting to truly embrace. Corporate Canada would be all over the story of theoretical Western Canadian star playing for one of the world’s marquee clubs.
If this kid were to chose to play for England (to pick a country totally at random) he’d probably just be a respected, but middling player that would never totally be accepted as one of their own.
Beyond enjoying Raonic for the great sports story that he is, soccer fans and soccer players with “options” would be wise to watch what happens with his career over the next few months. It says here he’ll be the biggest Canadian sports star (not chasing rubber disks) by this time next year.