The coach who set Milos Raonic on the road to the Wimbledon final has no doubt his former pupil will prove too strong for Andy Murray on Sunday.
It was a day just like any other in early 1999 when father Dusan, heeding the advice of his barber, took the eight-year-old Milos along to the Blackmore Tennis Club in Richmond Hill, Ontario, on the Toronto outskirts.
Located in a well-to-do neighbourhood, the club and its coach Casey Curtis had established a reputation for nurturing talent, and Dusan was willing to indulge his young son’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for the sport.
The moment Curtis set eyes on Raonic that day was one of epiphany.
“Believe it or not, on the first day I turned to my assistant and said, ‘I think that kid’s going to be number one in the world one day’,” Curtis said.
“The balls were flying all over the place but the boy could really swing a racket, and that’s a huge asset. I’ve been coaching tennis for a long time so it’s not difficult for me to see when someone is well above average.
“He had a tremendous passion for the game and he listened really well and learned very well.”
Raonic worked with Curtis until, at the age of 17, he joined the professional tour.
Eight years on and Raonic is not quite number one in the world yet, but the 6ft 5in Canadian could land the greatest prize in tennis when he tackles Murray on Centre Court.
Murray holds the upper hand with a 6-3 win-loss record from their past meetings, however their Australian Open semi-final at the start of the year was marred by a groin injury to Raonic, which hampered him for the second half of a match he lost in five sets. In the fifth, Raonic destroyed a racket out of despair.
And from a set and 3-0 up against Murray in the Aegon Championships final three weeks ago, Raonic should have taken the title, only to allow Murray a route back in.
“I actually believe that if there’s one guy in the top five that Milos thinks he can handle, it’s Andy,” Curtis told Press Association Sport.
“Watching the Australian semi, I thought Milos was ready to put Andy away in that match.
“He had a bad injury and he was out for a while after that. I was talking to him then and I know what happened, and it’s the only time I’ve watched a player smash a racket where I wasn’t upset.
“I hate it some days when they do that and the kids are watching, but I felt for Milos on that one, I really felt his frustration. I really felt he was about to go to the final of Australia.
“I think he beats Andy on Sunday.”
Curtis pins his belief on the searing second serves that Raonic has been slinging down at Wimbledon, never mind the 140mph-plus first deliveries.
“It’s one thing he’s been doing differently,” Curtis said. “He’s been hitting his second serve much harder at this tournament and in two of his matches he averaged 119mph on second serves. That’s what he can do. I think it’s the key to Milos’ game.
“I know his serve very, very well because I taught it to him.”
Raonic “has a real love for Wimbledon” and as a youngster would repeatedly watch videos of Pete Sampras winning All England Club titles, according to California-born Curtis, who now runs his own academy.
Curtis was in two minds about whether to check out last-minute flights to London.
“I’ve thought about it. Can you get me a seat on Henman Hill if I can’t get on Centre Court?” he said.
“There’s a lot of excitement here in the Toronto area. I got emotional after the semi-final. It’s the dream we had as a kid. He’s like a son to me. It’s huge.”
But with John McEnroe, Carlos Moya and Riccardo Piatti presenting a formidable coaching team, Curtis suspects Raonic will manage if he stays away.
“I don’t think he needs a fourth coach, do you?” Curtis said. “I feel my job is complete, even though I’m not there.”
Press Association Sport