US Open 2016: Murray rivalry can aid Raonic's major breakthrough

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It is difficult to take the positives from defeat, but if Milos Raonic learns the lessons from his recent one-sided rivalry with Andy Murray it could prove invaluable to claiming his first grand slam at the US Open.

After missing last year's French Open with a foot injury and exiting Wimbledon and the US Open at the third round stage, one match short of his best performance in New York, Raonic has stepped up a level in 2016, finding greater consistency to match his evident talent.

The Canadian reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open but surrendered a two-sets-to-one lead against Murray, a figure who would continue to frustrate him throughout the season.

Hard courts are Raonic's forte, and he followed his Melbourne run by making the final at Indian Wells, where he was beaten by Novak Djokovic, but the transition to clay led to disappointing results, most notably the straight-sets defeat to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the fourth round of the French Open.

However, the world number six signalled his desire to challenge the 'big four' of Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with the appointment of seven-time grand slam champion John McEnroe to his coaching staff ahead of the grass-court season after also turning to Carlos Moya at the start of the year.

It was a move that paid instant dividends. Raonic instantly gained greater variety and confidence in his play as he reached the finals at Queen's Club and Wimbledon.

However, new foe Murray consigned him to defeat in both of those showdowns.

While Raonic's ferocious serve and searing forehand enable him to perform strongly off his serve, he is often guilty of missing key shots when returning.

His increased net play has added diversity to his game but still needs greater work, and it is composure under pressure that differentiates good players from great players and grand slam winners from runners-up.

"I'm going to work on everything. I'm not going to leave any stone unturned," said a defiant Raonic following his Wimbledon final defeat to Murray.

 

Thank you to Cincinnati for a fun event. Now I'm coming for you NYC. #TeamMilos

A photo posted by Milos Raonic (@mraonic) on

"I'm going to try to get myself back in this position, try to be better in this position. I'm going to try to get fitter, stronger ... There's not one thing that I'm not going to try to improve."

It is a barrier that Murray himself had trouble breaking through.

A fiery, loud character on the court, Murray lost four grand slam finals and six semi-finals before fine-tuning his mentality to break his duck at the 2012 US Open, four years after his first final appearance in New York.

Key to the Brit's breakthrough was the appointment of coach Ivan Lendl, someone who knew a thing or two about winning majors having triumphed in eight himself.

Raonic and McEnroe will no doubt have designs of emulating that success, and there is little reason to see why the Canadian's first grand slam cannot come in New York.

Although he lost to Murray for the fifth time this year in the semi-finals at the Western and Southern Open last week after opting to sit out the Olympics, the Canadian can still be considered one of the top contenders at the US Open.

He has proved he has the ability to mix it with the best, claiming a thrilling victory over 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four at Wimbledon this year.

And with Federer missing the US Open through injury, Djokovic out of sorts since completing his career Grand Slam, Murray struggling with a shoulder issue and Nadal's wrist problems continuing, there is a real chance for the 25-year-old to claim his first major.

If Raonic maintains the desire to improve himself in the face of defeat, it is surely only a matter of time until he has his hands on a grand slam trophy.