Milos Raonic’s route to a third career semi-final at Wimbledon goes through a quarter-final against John Isner on Wednesday – a match of two of the most massive servers in tennis.
So far at Wimbledon – both have played 14 sets through four rounds – Isner has served 135 aces and Raonic 117. In terms of percentage of first serve points won, the 6-foot-5 Raonic has a slight edge at 87 per cent to 83 per cent for the 6-foot-10 Isner. They are dead even with 61 per cent of second serves points won.
Maybe the most important stat is break points saved and Isner has the edge with a perfect 6/6 in 74 service games while Raonic is 4/7 in 72 service games.
The inside scoop on this match is that it will come down the proverbial “a few points.”
Coach Goran Ivanisevic (at top in forecourt during practice on Tuesday with Raonic) has a slightly different way of looking at it. After Raonic’s four-set win over Mackenzie McDonald of the U.S. on Monday, the 46-year-old, 2001 Wimbledon champion said about his man facing Isner, “the next match is going to be a mind match. Both are serving big. There are not going to be too many chances – whoever takes the chances first is going to win the match.”
The head-to-head between the two is 3-1 in the 33-year-old Isner’s favour but Raonic, 27, won their last encounter 7-6(5), 7-6(5) in Cincinnati on hard courts in 2016. The last five sets they have played – Miami, 2015 and Cincinnati, 2016 – have all gone to tiebreaks, as have seven of the overall nine sets they have played dating back to their first meeting at the 2012 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Both among the greatest servers in tennis history, Ivanisevic and Raonic insist they have not discussed much in the way of tennis tactics or strategies for Wimbledon’s hallowed green lawns.
A man of ample cerebral capacities, Raonic has probably tended to obsess too much on the mental side of the game. Ivanisevic seems intent on controlling that thinking and attitude just as much as he is his player’s service returns or transition game.
“I tried to make him more relaxed,” Ivanisevic said about Raonic. “I think sometimes he’s too tight – when he relaxes he’s more focused and a better player on the court. I try to do that. He knows how to play tennis – a few things here and there, it’s easy to do. But he needs to be more relaxed. When he’s more relaxed he’s very dangerous.
“Milos should be relaxed like he has been so far. Sometimes he’s too tense and then he’s trying too much, he’s maybe sometimes too negative. At this point, to win a Grand Slam you can’t be negative. At Wimbledon if you play bad you need to find a way to overcome and win the matches. You can’t play seven good matches but if you overcome these bad moments you can win a Grand Slam.”
A lot of players don’t like playing monster servers like Raonic and Isner because they take them out of their comfort zones with their huge, one-strike tennis. But on this occasions it’s birds of a feather facing each other.
“It’s definitely not pleasant,” Raonic conceded about being across the net from a super-powerful server like Isner – similar to playing against himself. “It’s not enjoyable. You can’t get any rhythm, things like that. But I’m aware he feels the same way. So I think we’re sort of both playing with the same type of fire. It’s about who can sort of temper the other guy’s better.”
Isner, of course, won the amazing 70-68 in the fifth set, 11 hour-and-five-minute Wimbledon match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010 but his record since then day at the All England Club is a meagre 9-7 – and he has never been past the third round. It’s interesting to recall that the match after beating Mahut – a straight-sets loss to No. 49-ranked Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker – is the only time in his career when he failed to serve a single ace.
Reflecting on his Wimbledon futility since that 2010 classic marathon, Isner said, “this tournament since that long match has sort of been a house of horrors for me. I’ve lost a lot of close ones since that match in 2010, a lot of very, very close ones, a lot of deep five-set matches – third round especially.
“There was certainly some doubt. I’ve left this tournament the last nine, ten years pretty disappointed with my result, gone home sort of hanging my head a little bit. But not the case this year.
“I’ve always told myself, ‘just keep doing what you do,’ keep giving myself more chances. I want to keep coming to this event feeling good, playing well. That was the case this year and I’ve made good on that.”
It has been seven years since Isner has reached a Grand Slam quarter-final (2011 US Open) and he offered by way of explanation, “maybe a little bit of belief and just not playing well as well as I can when I’ve gotten to the third round, fourth round. Of course I know I’ve lost a number of matches in the round of 16. It doesn’t get easier.
“A lot of the times I’ve been the lower-ranked guy in that match. I feel like I’ve been seeded 13, 14-ish a lot, went up against some top-8 players. That has a lot to do with it as well.”
“Now I’m in the quarters. I want to keep going.”
Raonic is in his eighth Grand Slam quarter-final since Isner’s last in 2011.
Looking at the nuts and bolts of Wednesday’s the match, Raonic, after declaring that Isner’s serve is “incredible,” offered the following insights about the match-up: “when it does get into the rallies, who’s the one that’s the aggressor I think is going to be the most important thing. We’re going to probably serve, most likely, an equal amount of games. We’ll probably be pretty quick most of the time.
“When it does get down to the points where somebody is able to neutralize a point, it’s going to be about who can take that forward and be the aggressor shortly after.
“So the margins will be small. But I think it’s going to come down to those kinds of little subtleties.”
The weather – 21 degrees – was cool on Tuesday and Raonic had on leggings up on Court 16 at the Aorangi practice courts in the early afternoon. Before the event he said he wore them to “warm up and keep warm” the right knee that has bothered him at various times since last November. The weather for Wednesday is supposed be a high of 25 degrees so it will be interesting to see whether the leggings make it to Court No. 1, second match after a 1 p.m. (8 a.m. ET in Canada) start.
Tuesday’s slightly cooler temperatures come after a nine days of semi-scorching temperatures – at least by London standards.
The hot weather has created a 2018 Wimbledon that’s very much to Isner’s liking. “I think for sure the conditions are helping,” he said. “I think they’ve helped a guy like Milos as well – although his pedigree on grass has been very good. He’s made the final of this tournament. The conditions are very suitable for big servers like myself and Milos. The court’s a lot firmer. In a lot of senses it feels like a hard court. It feels like the ball is getting up a little more. It doesn’t feel too fast for me. I think a lot of times when I’ve struggled on grass, I just feel like the courts have been really fast and hard for me to catch up to the ball. I don’t really feel that this year.”
Isner has raised a few eyebrows, and maybe lost a few fans, with his comment on Monday that he wouldn’t mind if President Donald Trump attended a match he could be playing on Friday if he beats Raonic. “That would be awesome,” he said about the possibility of ‘The Donald’ showing up at the AELTC. “I know a lot of people won’t like that but I don’t care.”
A final stat that shows just how even the two men are is that, through four matches, Raonic has served-and-volleyed 119 times and won 82 points or 69 per cent, while Isner has ‘S&Ved,’ as tennis commentator Robbie Koenig likes to put it, 120 times and won 79 of them or 66 per cent.
Gunter Bresnik, coach of world No. 7 Dominic Thiem, offered his thoughts on Raonic – Isner contest. “I think everything is very similar, they’re both pretty good baseline players,” Bresnik said. “They’re not only servers like (Ivo) Karlovic. They’re used to the situation and maybe you can flip a coin about who’s going to win. But I would favour Raonic because I think he returns better and moves better on grass.”
As for the 6-foot-4 coach Ivanisevic, who always looks cramped and squirrely in the courtside seats, he said about his player after Monday’s win, “nervous or not, it’s not easy to watch. As a coach it’s tough but, if Milos plays like this, I’m really happy.”
Top seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and her Croatian partner Mate Pavic were upset 6-3, 6-4 in the third round of the mixed doubles by the unsung wild-card pairing of Harriet Dart and Jay Clarke of Britain.
Runners-up at the French Open and champions in Australia, Dabrowski and Pavic had a first-round bye before advancing to round three on a walkover Monday.
Pavic, top-seeded with Oliver Marach of Austria, was ousted in the first round of men’s doubles. So the 24-year-old, runner-up in the men’s event with Marach last year and champion with the Austrian in Australia in January, departs Wimbledon without a single match win in 2018.
As for Dabrowski, on Wednesday in women’s doubles she and partner Xu Yifan of China, seeded sixth, will play a quarter-final match against veterans Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the U.S. and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. It is second match on Court No. 3 after an 11:30 am. (6:30 a.m. ET in Canada) start.
Leylah Annie Fernandez of Montreal was beaten 6-2, 6-4 in the second round of the junior girls event on Tuesday by Emma Raducanu of Britain.
Raducanu, 16, has had some success in pre-Wimbledon junior events and is more experienced on grass but a downcast Fernandez, immediately after her match on Court 17, thought the result was determined more by the performance on her side of the net. “It probably was an advantage for her but I didn’t play well,” the 15-year-old said about Raducanu’s grass-court mastery. “I didn’t play at the level I wanted to and that didn’t help. It wasn’t a good day for me.”
Summing up her Wimbledon, Fernandez said, “it was my first time here and it was really special. But I’m a little disappointed that it didn’t last long.”
Later, she advanced to the second round of girls doubles with her American partner Gabriella Price as they defeated the British wild-card pairing of Danielle Daley and Tanysha Dissanayake 6-2, 6-2.
Fernandez is unsure of her immediate plans after Wimbledon but there’s a possibility she could play the upcoming National Bank Challenger events in Gatineau and Granby in Quebec.
American actress Amber Heard and her boyfriend Vito Schnabel, a New York City art dealer, were at Milos Raonic’s match on Monday as they also were last Friday. The 32-year-old Heard and the 31-year-old Schnabel are Raonic’s friends.
This little dog was on the King’s Road in Chelsea on Sunday evening. If a canine ever fit the definition of a mutt, this might be the one.
Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz