How do athletes reach the next level?

Continuous hard work, perseverance and a relentless drive to constantly improve. We profile ten Canadian superstars who continually test their limits, and by doing so, have reached the Next Level.

The Next Level according to milos

There is no mistaking Milos Raonic. He’s lumbering down the hallway of this California resort, hands in his pockets, that six-foot-five, 196-lb. frame dwarfing those in his path. Raonic wears size 14 sneakers and grey shorts that expose legs so long he requires custom-made pants with 36-inch inseams. And while he’s tall, there’s nothing lanky about him. He’s solid. One look at the 23-year-old is enough to understand why he unleashes one of the fastest and deadliest serves in tennis. It has been clocked at up to 249.9 km/h.

The Thornhill, Ont., product, the son of engineers, acknowledges he was on the winning end in the genetics department; “good shoulder strength, and height to help me as well.” But, he says, his physical makeup is far from the most important piece of the puzzle: “It’s time.” Raonic figures he’s belted more than 50,000 serves. And there are tens of thousands more in his future.

Sit down with Raonic and it takes just seconds to see the singular focus that has catapulted him up the world rankings to No. 10, that’s made him Canada’s top-ranked singles player since computers started tracking the data in the 1970s. Raonic’s ranking rose from 156th to 31st in 2011 alone, and if you ask him, it’s an unrelenting internal motivation that’s fuelled the rise. “It’s what has allowed me to catch up on some time where maybe I was behind as a tennis player,” he says. “If you look at me when I was 17, 16 years old, I was the 30th-ranked junior in the world, under-18. [Now] I’m the highest-ranked out of anybody my age or a year older.”

To Raonic, being 30th in the world was being “behind.” “I demand a lot from myself and I demand a lot from the people around me,” he says. It’s why he counts former coach Casey Curtis among his most important influences. Curtis coached Raonic from the ages of nine to 17, working with him at almost no charge twice a day from 6–8 a.m. and 9–11 p.m., because that’s when court fees were cheapest, and the Raonic family didn’t have the means to pay for the amount of tennis their son wanted to play. “He saw the kind of desire I had,” Raonic says, “and he had that desire for me to achieve.”

Curtis hasn’t fed Raonic a ball in six years, but he hasn’t stopped coaching him, either. Raonic still gets texts and phone calls from the coach, with this message: “You can do much better.”

Images provided by: Getty (Clive Brunskill, Stephen Dunn, Matthew Stockman, Derek Leung), AP (Sakchai Lalit)
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