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Australia lost Raonic in the paperwork

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Immigration forms essentially delivered Milos Raonic to Canada, writes Linda Pearce.

Stars … Janko Tipsarevic and Milos Raonic.

Stars … Janko Tipsarevic and Milos Raonic. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

C ould this have been Australia's next great tennis player? Could world No.15 Milos Raonic have been the top-20 successor to Lleyton Hewitt this struggling grand slam nation craves? Whoever designed Australia's lengthy immigration forms may have lot to answer for.

When engineers Dusan and Vesna Raonic were planning to emigrate from their home in Montenegro with their young family - including three-year-old Milos - two decades ago, they considered Australia, but ended up in Canada. On Tuesday, at the AAMI Classic launch at Kooyong, even Hewitt's ears pricked up as Raonic's tale was told.

''It's actually a funny story,'' said the 22-year-old, raised in Ontario, but now based in Monte Carlo. ''We had friends here when my parents were looking where to move to, and the immigration papers here were much longer than Canada's one page. So it was only one page and my parents didn't speak any English, so that helped Canada's case at that moment.''

Later, when Raonic was asked whether he would have preferred to be an Australian, he did not bother to play to the local crowd with his reply. ''I'm happy being Canadian,'' said the 196-centimetre power server, who last year helped carry his adopted nation back into the Davis Cup world group, where Australia last played in 2007.

Oh well. We have Marinko Matosevic, Bernard Tomic, Matt Ebden and, well, still Hewitt, the 31-year-old who is playing without pain for the first time in several years. He lost to Denis Istomin in the second round of his ATP warm-up event, before venturing to historic Kooyong - the old stomping ground of his childhood idol, Pat Cash - for the second time in three years, having won the exhibition at his first attempt in 2011.

Not that the AAMI Classic is as much about who takes home the trophy as it is about fine-tuning, with three guaranteed matches for next week's Australian Open. A surprise presence in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year, Hewitt has his only serious points of the half-year to defend on his return - although his ranking is the least of the world No.82's concerns.

''In terms of points, that's not what I play for, and especially at this stage of my career and after so many surgeries,'' he said. ''I play to compete, and obviously the majors and Davis Cup are very special, so for me it's like any other grand slam, and getting out there and competing … Obviously when you're not highly ranked then it opens up to playing anyone early on, and we'll see what happens with the draw.

''The first week in any major you can lose, and you certainly can't win it, so it's a matter of putting yourself in a position to be there in the second week. And every match is tough, and you've got to be prepared to play five-set matches every second day, and obviously a lot's going to depend on the draw, but I'll be out there giving 100 per cent, as usual.''

Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu replaced injured Juan Monaco (hand) in the eight-man field assembled on Tuesday, but Japanese star Kei Nishikori (knee) may yet join Monaco on the sidelines. Nishikori retired during the second set of his semi-final against Andy Murray at the Brisbane International, and Tuesday afternoon's practice session was to be his first hit since then.

''Hopefully I can play here,'' said Nishikori, a tennis rock star in his homeland, Australian Open quarter-finalist 12 months ago and reigning Japan Open winner, who sounded more hopeful than confident. ''It's not bad actually. I don't know, it's looking good and hopefully it's OK.''

Czech Tomas Berdych is the highest ranked player in the field, one ahead of seventh-ranked former US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro, but it was world No.9 Janko Tipsarevic, fresh from claiming his fourth career title in Chennai, who spoke most eloquently. Despite the long shadow cast by his close friend Novak Djokovic, the 28-year-old is not bothered that single figures do not guarantee him the top ranking in Serbia, while declaring that it was only when he realised ''you need to live and breathe tennis every day of your life in order to achieve results and be successful at the top, top level'' that the results came.

''I'm not even No.1 in north Belgrade where we both live,'' quipped the tour's resident philosopher. ''Obviously Novak is the best player in the world and I'm aware of that, but I don't … at least I try not to, think that I am in anybody's shadow, because tennis as a sport and ATP World Tour I think it is big enough for all of us who want to work hard … to be successful.''

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