The good news about the completion of Milos Raonic’s third-round match being held over until Saturday is that he will still have Wimbledon’s traditional Sunday day off, if he wins, before a round-of-16 encounter on Monday. The bad news is he will have to start up his match with Dennis Novak precariously perched at one set apiece and the 24-year-old Austrian serving at 5-6 in the third set.
Officially the score reads – before matters resume on Saturday second on Court 12 after a women’s match between Alison Van Uytvanck and Anett Kontaveit beginning at 11:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. ET in Canada) – 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-5 from the Raonic standpoint.
Originally slated for the 11,393-seat Court No. 1 as fourth on Friday after two women’s matches and the completion of the Sascha Zverev – Taylor Fritz second rounder, things went long and Raonic–Novak was shunted to the ground’s fifth biggest stadium – 1,056-seat Court 12.
With a starting time of exactly at 7 p.m., it was always going to be problematic to get it completed unless there was a straight-set result.
In hindsight it’s easy to see a far different outcome, and maybe completion before darkness, if Raonic had converted two break points in the very first game on Novak’s serve.
As it was the set went to a tiebreak and Raonic fell behind a mini-break at 1-4 but got it back in it with an absolute screamer forehand service return winner to make it 4-5 on serve. A 139 mph service winner, a 138 mph ace and backhand long by Novak after a short rally and Raonic had wrapped up the first set 7-5 in the tiebreak.
Novak (above), a qualifier ranked No. 171, is definitely a better player than his ranking. He showed some of that in his first round 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(7) victory over Peter Polansky. Afterward Polansky noted about the 24-year-old, who has battled injury issues the past couple of years, “his ball was a little bit different going through the court more than some guys I’d previously played. They’re really flat. The grass here is a little bit longer so the ball stays really low.”
That could have been a challenge for Raonic but it was more his own serve. He was broken twice in the first two sets – to 3-1 for Novak in the opening set and to 2-1 for the Austrian in the second. Both times he was a little sloppy – particularly in that third game of the second set when he over-hit hit a forehand volley wide into an open court on break point.
Many of Raonic’s service games were speedy one-way traffic – like the ninth game of the second set when he hit four aces in a row. But one poor game in both sets prevented him from exerting the kind of serving dominance that can gradually heighten the pressure on his opponent to hold his own serve.
The superior serving power of the 6-foot-5 Raonic was obvious in two stats: he fastest first serve was 143 mph to 123 mph for the six-foot Novak. It was the same with fastest second serves with Raonic’s being 138 mph to 115 mph for his opponent.
He also ‘out-aced’ Novak 24-6 but the Austrian was more efficient on his break point conversions – 2/5 to 1/5 for Raonic.
The third set had no service breaks but both players had moments of brilliance to keep things going that way. In the opening game, Raonic faced a break point and there was added pressure because he had just lost the second set. He missed his first serve but then hit a massive inside/out forehand winner – holding back nothing and going for broke.
Novak was also bold trailing 2-3 and 15-40 – he saved one break point on a Raonic backhand into the net and the second with an aggressive move forward that ended with high forehand volley winner.
By the ninth game, which Raonic won to take a 5-4 lead, it was after 8:45 p.m. and the light had begun to fade. At that point American supervisor Brian Earley (above talking to Raonic) came on court and made both players aware of the situation – seeming to say that they might be able to play through, or up to, a tiebreak if one was needed at the end of the set.
It actually seemed strange that Earley, the US Open referee, would intervene at that precise moment. Usually in similar fading light situations – and Earley had said the light was “below optimum” – the rule is that everything is done with the game score on even numbers. As it was Earley came out with Novak about to serve to stay in the set at 4-5 and the Austrian could have claimed, if he had lost his ensuing serve and the set, that Earley’s intervention had thrown him off.
The Austrian did manage to hold serve to 30 and then could be heard muttering about the poor light conditions. Raonic expeditiously held his own serve to 6-5 on four points and Earley again appeared near umpire Gianluca Moscarella’s chair. He spoke first to Raonic who indicated he wanted to continue – and play did continue on several other courts – but when he moved over to Novak he got the opposite response and quickly signalled that play was done for the day.
As it turned out, No. 103-ranked Mackenzie McDonald was able to complete his match on Court 18, defeating Guido Pella of Argentina, the man who upset No. 3 seed Marin Cilic on Thursday, by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(6) score. The 23-year-old American now awaits the winner of Raonic and Novak in Monday’s round-of-16.
Raonic had a statistical advantage in the winners to unforced errors ratio with 55/16 to 31/18. And he won 106 points to 89 for Novak but that was mostly because in 13 out of his 17 games on serve he lost just one or no points.
Novak, with his heavily tattooed right arm, is playing his sixth match, counting qualifying, and is a solid competitor and significantly better than Raonic’s previous opposition this week – Liam Broady of Britain and Aussie John Millman.
It will be a challenge on Saturday for Raonic to finish off the Austrian and insure himself of a round-of-16 spot for the fourth time in his last five Wimbledons.
There was a celebrity citing in the Raonic courtside seats as Amber Heard, a 32-year-old American actress, was there with two friends. She was seated a few places over from Raonic’s immediate support group. Heard played Mera in last year’s superhero film Justice League, a role she will reprise in the 2018 film Aquaman.
Gabriela Dabrowski and Chinese partner Xu Yifan advanced to the round-of-16 in the women’s doubles on Saturday with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Jennifer Brady of the U.S.
That came on the heels of a first-round 6-7(5), 6-2, 10-8 win over Alison Riske of the U.S. and Olga Savchuk of Ukraine on Thursday.
One of the keys to the success of the Dabrowski (the WTA No. 9 in doubles) – Xu (No. 15) tandem is their ability to poach.
“I think for both of us we have that skill set,” Dabrowski explained. “It’s usually doubles players that have that type of a skill set, especially when they don’t play singles that much. We do try to take advantage of being able to volley well.
“I think yesterday (a match resumed with Dabrowski and Xu trailing 3-2 and down a service break in the final set against Riske and Savchuk) it helped us a lot that we have good volleys because Ali (Riske) was hitting the ball really well, keeping the ball really low and it was tough to handle on the grass from the baseline. It’s an advantage for sure that we can play at the net.”
While Wimbledon is the favourite tournament of many players, the 26-year-old from Ottawa has another Grand Slam that she rates higher. “It’s really special, there’s definitely a different vibe and energy here,” Dabrowski said about Wimbledon. “Although the Australian Open is still my favourite Slam just because they treat the players so well and make improvements every year. The transport
system is amazing. They really make you feel that they appreciate that you’ve come to Australia. So honestly for me that’s still the best Slam. Wimbledon is No. 2. It’s a little trickier too because hard courts is my favourite surface. But definitely, the energy is very special and you can feel it when you’re here watching Wimbledon matches. Obviously, the tradition has an impact, which is really cool.”
Dabrowski and Xu won’t play their third round until Monday at the earliest, which is also when she is likely to debut in mixed doubles as half of the top-seeded pair with Mate Pavic of Croatia, her partner when she finished as runner-up at the French Open last month and champion at the Australian Open in January.
But there could be one small catch – who knows what Pavic’s spirits will be after he and Oliver Marach, the top seeds in the men’s doubles and this year’s champions in Australia and runners-up at Roland Garros, were upset Friday in the first round 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 by No. 184-ranked Federico Delbonis of Argentina and No. 64 Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico?
Often doubles player feed off both events at a Grand Slam tournament and now the 24-year-old Pavic will only be playing in the mixed.
It may not immediately be apparent who’s moving these bottles on Centre Court, but here’s a hint – the fingers on his left hand are heavily taped.