Milos Raonic played his best match of Wimbledon ’18 on Monday – beating Mackenzie McDonald of the U.S. 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth time in the last five years.
Except for two mini-breaks that went against him in the third-set tiebreak, it was essentially a dominant performance by the 13th seed against the game but out-gunned 23-year-old American.
“I was more aggressive and I led off sort of how I came back on Saturday (against Dennis Novak) to finish off that third match,” Raonic said. “I missed a few opportunities in the third set – just sort of let up a little bit and he played well in that tiebreaker. Other than that, it was a pretty clean match. I didn’t face any breakpoints – I don’t believe. I did a lot of things well.”
Indeed he did not face any break points while going 4/14 on conversions against the No. 103-ranked McDonald from Los Angeles. An enterprising player and winner of the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles titles while at UCLA, the 5-foot-10 McDonald found himself in another league against Raonic, particularly against a serve that poured down 37 aces and featured a fastest first serve of 143 mph and fastest second of 141 mph!
“Honestly I have never faced a server like that before,” McDonald said. “I have played Ivo (Karlovic) and Sam Groth. I feel like I’m a really good returner but I have never felt so uncomfortable out there returning. I didn’t have one break point. I swear I have never played a match where I have never had a break point before.”
Asked to rate his serve on an A-B-C-D scale, Raonic said, “Maybe an A minus – maybe. A few games I fell behind. That was it. I didn’t necessarily serve the best in the tiebreak. But that’s the only little fault I made today.”
Has he had any A+ serving days lately? “I think I had two very good serving matches in Stuttgart,” he answered about the ATP 250 event last month when he reached the finals and lost 6-4, 7-6(3) to Roger Federer.
His volleying may actually have been his forte on the day – he was a scintillating 42/57 in net points won.
Coach Goran Ivanisevic had a short and sweet assessment of his player’s performance, saying, “it was okay – enough. The first two sets good. The third a little slower and the fourth set good again.”
Asked to compare his own redoubtable serve in his prime with Raonic’s today, the 6-foot-4 Croat answered, “I can’t say because it’s different. I still hold the record for aces in one year (1,477 in 1996) – and I don’t think anybody is going to beat that one. But who cares who is the better server? – you need to hit the serve when you’re playing the big points.”
Ivanisevic reached the Wimbledon final in 1992 (Andre Agassi) as well as in 1994 and 1998 (Pete Sampras) before finally winning the title with a five-set thriller against Pat Rafter in 2001. But although he reached a career-high ranking of No. 2 in 1994, he did not play any Grand Slam finals outside of Wimbledon. Obviously grass was his best surface – as it is for Raonic.
“It’s a surface that’s going to allow me to come forward more,” the 27-year-old from Thornhill, Ont. said about Wimbledon’s turf. “It’s going to help my volleys when I’m at the net stay a little bit lower, those kinds of things. It’s harder for other guys to move. Guys move extremely well. If they’re not moving as well, it’s hard for them to be in balance for passing shots.
“So the margins are small but it still makes a difference. Obviously I’ve played well here. It’s halfway into the year. I tend to play quite a few matches on grass because I’m able to find my way through. I enjoy it.”
Next for Raonic will be the imposing figure of 6-foot-11 John Isner, who on Monday defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 7-6(8), 7-6(4). Despite the renown of his record-smashing 70-68 in the fifth set win over Nicolas Mahut in 2010, the 33-year-old American is in the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time. He has a 3-1 head-to-head career advantage over Raonic but lost their last meeting 7-6(5), 7-6(5) in the second round in Cincinnati in 2016.
“It’s going to come down to one, two, three points here and there,” Raonic said about the battle between two monster servers. “That’s it pretty much. I don’t think we’re going to have many consecutive opportunities on each other’s serves. It’s going to be coming down to those moments about being sharp in the right moments, who’s going to be able to step up, be the one that’s able to dictate, putting more pressure on the other guy.
“I think it’s going to be decided by small margins.”
In the meantime, Raonic will be hanging out in a house in Wimbledon with those close to him – sometimes looking for distractions from the tennis. This year is a particularly good one in that sense – especially with his coach Ivanisevic’s Croatian team in the World Cup semi-finals.
“Every two years when you come to Wimbledon, you buckle down in a house out here,” Raonic said. “You don’t make it to London too much. It’s nice to have the Euro Cup or the World Cup to have something to talk about every two years, something to watch after matches and practices.”
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan reached the quarter-finals of the doubles on Monday with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over veterans Vania King of the U.S. and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia.
Seeded No. 6, they will next face another veteran pair in Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the U.S. and Czech Lucie Safarova on Wednesday. Mattek-Sands and Safarova upset No. 2 seeded Czechs Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4.
“It was a good match,” Dabrowski said about the victory over King and Srebotnik. “I’m happy to have not had to go three sets like our other matches. It’s a little bit tiring with the full format. But I still always stand by the full format for doubles.
“We played consistent the whole match – not too many ups and downs.”
About facing Mattek-Sands and Safarova, five-time Grand Slam champions between 2015 and 2017 – but never winners at Wimbledon, Dabrowski said, “it’s a very difficult challenge. They are extremely experienced and I know they haven’t played together for a while (Mattek-Sands serious knee injury and surgery in 2017) but I don’t think that matters. They are very strong from all sides – serves, returns, net game, doubles feel – they’re very good. I think it will be extremely difficult.”
Dabrowski could not recall ever beating Mattek-Sands and Safarova even playing with partners other than Xu.
Her mixed doubles match on Monday with partner Mate Pavic of Croatia – they are the top seeds – turned out to be a walkover when Artem Sitak of New Zealand (playing with Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine) pulled out after he and partner Divij Sharan of Indian won a five-set men’s doubles match – 6-4 in the fifth – that lasted three hours and 50 minutes.
In the opening round of the girls singles, 15-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez of Montreal defeated Violet Apisah of Papua New Guinea 6-4, 7-6(2).
A semi-finalist at the French Open, Fernandez is seeded No. 11 in the Wimbledon draw.
“I was a little nervous because it was my first time playing at Wimbledon and it was a long day,” Fernandez said, adding about playing on the grass at the AELTC, “it was very interesting. The balls go really fast but it was a great experience.”
In the second round on Tuesday, she will play Emma Raducanu of Great Britain.
Three Canadians were dining out at La Famiglia in Chelsea on Sunday evening. One noticed that TV talent impresario Simon Cowell was seated across the restaurant near a wall. The picture here was taken with the face of one of the three Canadians in the foreground and Mr. Cowell visible – although not that well – in the background.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)