Chennai: Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic on Monday credited greater mental maturity for his breakout season last year, when he surged from the depths of a 150 plus ranking to his career best ranking of 25 in the men's singles roster in 2011.
"I worked on a lot of things but a big part of it was maturity," Raonic, the fourth seed at the Chennai Open 2012 here, told PTI in an interview.
"From a mental standpoint, just learning about my game. Learning to think what I needed to do for my game to be effective. (Nowadays) always in the pressure moments, I know the shots and the patterns I believe in the most. Whereas before, in the big moments, I would do something quite different," said the World No. 31.
"But now I have such confidence in my game that I stick to the things that I do best. So it helps me get out of the tight moment. I learnt to accept things, to try to find a way to win. Every match you play, even if you're not playing your best, if you're playing the next match, you're in the tournament. A lot of things came together, learning more about myself, trying to stay calm and collected," he added.
Raonic, who was born in what is now the southeastern European nation of Montenegro, moved to Canada with his family when he was three. Last year, he played as a qualifier here but lost in the final qualifying round to Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vesselin in a close encounter.
However, he went from strength to strength from thereon, reaching the fourth round of the subsequent Australian Open, in the process becoming the first qualifier to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam since 1999.
Raonic won his first ATP World Tour title in San Jose, California, beating Spanish star Fernando Verdasco. By May 2011, he was ranked a career high 25 in the world.
The big-serving Canadian agreed that his ranking could have improved even more had he played on his favourite hard courts in the US Open, which he missed after undergoing a hip surgery.
However, he had arrived on the tennis scene and his ascent was one that had already been presaged by one of the icons of the game, Rafael Nadal.
When Raonic played the Spanish matador in October 2010 in the Japan Open, an impressed Nadal, after defeating him 6-4 6-4, said, "He can become a very good player. I don't know when, but he will be very close to the top positions.
"One thing I did really well in that match was I was fully focused on things I was doing well," he said, recalling the two-year-old encounter.
"I knew at that time that he'd just won the third Slam of the year, he was very confident. I just knew I had to focus on myself. One of my most important parts is the serve and I took care of that in that game. I felt I held my own. Not only that but I was able to impose my game."
Raonic is helped in his cause by his Spanish coach Galo Blanco, a former player himself.
In his mid-thirties, Raonic admits Blanco is "still very much into his travel lifestyle".
As with any coach, Blanco gives the Canadian star insights into his game and his opponents' but he also sits down with his ward and explains how to deal with stardom and the baggage it brings with it.
"A lot of things came up on me pretty fast that I had not experienced before and we sat down and talked about it. We get along well on and off the court. He's also still young and it's fun travelling with him," he said.
Raonic is backing himself ahead of the Chennai Open. Granted a first round bye as one of the four top seeds, he will take on either American Sam Querrey or Romanian veteran Victor Hanescu in the second round.
"I can't really choose (who I'd prefer). I did a lot of work in the off season and I know how they're going to play. But the most important thing is to be focusing on myself. Obviously they have played one more match than me but I feel good and feel I did a lot of things in the off season," he said.
The 21-year-old has also taken a liking to qualities in the Chennai Open that characterise the city itself.
Stating how you "don't feel rushed here" and how players feel it's a "very relaxed week", Raonic said, "I spoke to a lot of players that come here (and also) the hotel is very close with a lot of restaurants inside the hotel, so we don't have to go very far away. There's also plenty of courts to practice. It's nice. You don't feel rushed here. I don't know how the main draw is but last year was quite well organised."
Besides the laid back pace, there's another quintessentially Indian nugget that's caught his eye, Butter Chicken.
"My favourite! It's simple, easy and not spicy. It's great with rice. I struggle with spicy food. But I (also) have to say I like the Naan bread a lot," he revealed.