Rafael Nadal did not name names when he said on the eve of the tournament that the biggest challenge at Wimbledon is when you face "a big, big server, because the game is too fast and it's not nice to play". The defending champion may well have been thinking ahead to his potential third-round confrontation later this week with Canada's Milos Raonic, whose cannonball serves have been wreaking havoc in the men's game this year.
Raonic, the world No 25, already has an entry in fifth place on the all-time list of fastest serves, a 150mph effort fired at Andy Roddick in Memphis earlier this year. Nobody has hit more aces this year than the 20-year-old Canadian, who took his tally for the season to 504 with another 25 in beating France's Marc Gicquel 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in the first round here yesterday.
He also showed there is plenty more in his armoury than the nuclear option he has at his disposal. Raonic hit some smart volleys, coped well with the lower bounces on grass and hit some rasping groundstrokes. Any nerves on his Wimbledon debut were dispelled when he started with three successive aces.
Poor Gicquel forced just one break point, which he did not take, and won only 17 out of 87 points on Raonic's serve. When you are facing the firing squad it is probably just as well when you are given short notice: the world No 119 learnt he was playing as a "lucky loser" from the qualifying competition only half an hour before the match after Fabio Fognini, Raonic's scheduled opponent, pulled out with injury.
Raonic said that his serve had always been his strength. "I've also made sure that even now I keep working on it," he said. "There are a lot of things I want to improve on and I believe there's a lot of room for improvement."
Although he is 6ft 5in tall and weighs more than 14st, Raonic has the appearance of a man who could put on plenty more muscle, despite the fact that he eats steak every night before matches. His legs seem to go on for ever: his shorts were no doubt as long as anyone else's but finished well above his knees, making him look like a refugee from the 1980s.
Raonic was born in Montenegro but moved to Canada when he was three. He grew up idolising Pete Sampras and met the seven-times Wimbledon champion for the first time earlier this year. He keeps a framed picture of the American, signed with a good luck message, next to his trophies in his parents' house in Toronto.
Ranked No 295 in the world a year ago, Raonic broke into the top 100 at the end of January and won his first title the following month in San Jose. This is just his third Grand Slam tournament. He reached the fourth round of the Australian Open but fell at the first hurdle at the French Open.Reuse content