Milos Raonic had his game face on as he walked out Saturday for the resumption of his third round match at Wimbledon against Dennis Novak of Austria.
His attitude carried over onto Court 12 as he immediately faced a situation where he was returning serve with the score at one set apiece and the No. 171-ranked qualifier serving at 5-6. From the very beginning, it was clear Raonic was not going to hold anything back – and it paid off. He trailed 40-15 when play started up again but cranked a huge backhand inside/in-service return winner to get to 30-40 and then got a little lucky as his mishit backhand return down-the-line landed good for a winner. That made it deuce and after two more points – a forehand unforced error into the net by Novak and an attack by Raonic that set up an easy forehand put-away – the No. 13 seed had the set and a lead he would never relinquish.
The pressure that Raonic struggled to exert on Friday finally started to tell on Novak as he lost his serve in the fourth game of the final set. Raonic was basically home free and lost only three points in his next two service games before breaking Novak in the last game. The final two points were his overhead winner and a backhand misfire into the net by the 24-year-old Austrian.
It took only 35 minutes of play on Saturday for Raonic to wrap up a 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory and move into Monday’s round-of-16.
“I was extremely negative yesterday and just needed to come out with a very different state of mind and different approach today,” Raonic said.
That hyper-aggressive attitude and ball-striking right off the hop was the game-plan. “I was extremely passive yesterday,” he said. “I needed to sort of exaggerate a little bit. It’s the way I need to play, but obviously it’s hard once you get too passive to sort of get into that. That was definitely the objective today.”
The same player who was 1/5 in break point chances through nearly three sets on Friday, was 3/6 on Saturday in just nine games. Novak, 2/5 on Friday, was 0/0 on Saturday.
“I was a little bit unlucky,” Novak said, “I had 40-15 when we came back and, if I could hold, it’s in the tiebreak and it’s 50-50. I didn’t feel that good like yesterday – today my legs were not 100 per cent. But he returned really good today, much better than yesterday. And he was more aggressive and, of course, his serve was really good. Today he was much better.”
Summing up his improvement from just 16 hours earlier, Raonic said, “I put the negativity from yesterday behind me – and I came out with a very different objective and way I should play. I got a little bit fortunate that it worked right away. I didn’t expect that. “I got aggressive and I stayed aggressive and even volleyed a little bit more efficiently – just did things generally better.”
About the postponement due to darkness on Friday night, Raonic said, “I remember before it always used to be play until 9:00…9:15. I was surprised it was called 8:50…8:52. But it’s the supervisor’s (American Brian Earley) call to make. He came out. He was pretty firm with his stance. Gave Dennis an opportunity to decide if he wanted to play his service game or not – and we just took it off until today.”
From Novak’s side of things it went like this: “The umpire (supervisor) told me that there is something where they calculate (the light) and when it goes below it then we have to stop,” he said. “We can discuss if we want to stop, but at 4-5 there were still normal rates so we continued. But I had problems at 5-all because I have contact lenses and it wasn’t good. I wanted to stop at 5-6.”
Originally scheduled for Court No. 1 on Friday but moved after the K. Pliskova – M. Buzarnescu match went long, Raonic had no problems about being changed from the 11,393 capacity, second-largest stadium to Court 12 with its 1,056 seats.
“They came to us I think it was 5-all (second set) in the match and they said if the ladies’ match goes three sets we’ll put you on 12,” Raonic explained. “It was pretty clear. There wasn’t really any discussion back and forth. “I didn’t mind it at all. I wanted to get on court. I don’t know what time they (Pliskova and Buzarnescu) ended up finishing but it gave us a chance to play more yesterday. I think that was the right choice.”
Gunter Bresnik, one of the more experienced coaches on the tour, and coach of No. 7-ranked Dominic Thiem, also coaches his fellow-Austrian Novak. Assessing his match with Raonic, Bresnik said, “I think Dennis played pretty good, especially yesterday. I think Raonic did not play that well yesterday except for serving. I think he played too defensive. The way Raonic came out today, Dennis got tired – not even physically but it’s the first time in his life that he played over two weeks on a high level like this, making the most (ATP) points, making the most money. This was emotional for him. Today he lost the first game after being ahead 40-15 and then it was basically downhill.”
Looking ahead at Raonic’s chances for the rest of the tournament, Bresnik said, “Milos is a player who’s going to raise his level with the occasion. He played good enough today to win pretty comfortably. I think he has a good draw now – he has Mackenzie McDonald, he not going to lose that one either. And then being in the quarters that’s where, for those guys, the tournament starts.”
About playing “Mackie” McDonald, the 23-year-old American world No. 103 who has beaten No. 30 Filip Krajinovic, No. 66 Nicolas Jarry and No. 82 Guido Pella to reach the round-of-16 in only his third Grand Slam event (Raonic has played 28), Raonic said, “I know him a little bit – practiced with him a bunch. He’s played well this year. He’s obviously had good wins through these last three matches here. It’s going to be tough. I’m going to have my chances. He likes to play more solid tennis, likes to take the ball early. I will have my chances – have to stay aggressive and try to dictate more like the rhythm of today rather than yesterday. That’s for sure.”
Raonic definitely seems to be rounding into form – with maybe only the virus/lung issue that has been bothering him being a concern.
But he said Saturday that it is “improving,” adding that it’s being treated with “antibiotics.”
This is Raonic’s fourth trip in five years to the second week of Wimbledon – with his best ever finish being a loss in the final to Andy Murray in 2016.
There are activities going on in Wimbledon in the summer besides the tennis down at the old AELTC. Here some equestrians are out for a morning trot on Wimbledon Common – a huge park space that is mostly just empty, flat land.