Friday was one of those days for Milos Raonic when he played lucky loser Andrej Martin at the French Open.
A lot of things weren’t working in his game, most prominently his serve, but he muddled through to a 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-3 win in two hours and 41 minutes.
In this space it had been suggested that Raonic would easily roll the No. 133-ranked Slovak and that looked to be the case when he broke Martin in the second game of the match on five quick points and then soon led 3-0.
But an indication that matters weren’t going to be quite so uncomplicated came immediately when Martin broke back to 2-3 and then held to 3-all. When Raonic broke serve to lead 5-3 it all appeared to make sense again, and that he had effectively wrapped up the set. Who breaks Milos Raonic twice in one set? In Court 1 on Friday it happened to be the unheralded Martin.
Fine… but after Martin broke back to 4-5 it appeared that les pendules ont été remises à l’heure (the clocks had been put back on time) when Raonic led love-40 (three set points) on the Slovak’s not so redoubtable serve in the following game.
Non monsieur! – logic again went out the window as Martin saved three set points – one of them on a Raonic second service return into the net off a 146 km/hr serve and the other when Raonic committed a lame backhand unforced error into the net.
The set eventually wound itself to a tiebreak and again Raonic jumped out ahead, 3-0.
On the second point, Martin argued a line call with umpire Kadar Nouni (above) but to no avail. He might have felt hard done-by but he promptly won two points off the Raonic serve to get back on serve at 2-3. Here the match probably made its fateful decisive turn for Martin when he proceeded to hit two double faults in a row.
That was a gift that even Raonic, on this day, couldn’t decline and he went on to take the tiebreak 7-4.
Much of Raonic’s struggle was of his own design – he just didn’t seem to be able to turn the screw at the key moment. Martin was a spunky opponent but lacked punch – especially off the backhand side.
In hindsight, a better serving day would made things much simpler for the No. 8 seed. He won only 69 per cent of his first serve points and 48 per cent of his second serve points – the same 48 per cent as the less than mighty Martin.
“I wish I could have served better,” Raonic said. “That would have made my day a lot easier.”
While most of the stats between the two players were similar, there was one that clearly stood out for the 6-foot-5 guy from Thornhill, Ont. He had 43 winners to just 22 for Martin, suggesting there’s a reward for aggressive play.
While there were few moments of drama in the second and third sets, there were certainly a few of major concern when Raonic called for treatment of his left hip after the first game of the final set. The opposite hip to the one he had surgery in July, 2011.
“At one point it sort of felt like I had trouble bringing my hip back around when I would sprint forward when my left leg was behind me,” he explained. “And then it sort of went the other way. I think the muscles around it, to protect, sort of seized up. The trainer was able to sort of assure me that from what he could tell there was nothing serious there. I’ll have tests done on it now, and take it from there.”
He added, “I felt it towards the middle of the second set, and I was just sort of seeing how it goes. When I asked for the timeout, it just got really painful at that one point.”
He took ‘Ibuprofen’ and ‘Paracetamol’ pills for painkilling and inflammation purposes.
“I just tried to fight through,” he summed up. “I tried to sort of manage the situation as much as I could. I’m happy with the fact that I was able to continue through with somewhat efficiency.”
Heading into his round-of-16 match on Sunday with No. 55-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, he remains positive in regards to his fitness. “I feel pretty optimistic about it,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a pain that’s sort of – it feels like just everything got tight around it to protect it rather than anything else.”
Raonic has only played Ramos-Vinolas once – defeating him indoors on hard court in 2013 Davis Cup in Vancouver by a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 score.
Despite being a Spaniard, Ramos-Vinolas doesn’t have a stellar a clay-court record – being 73-76 (.490) lifetime on the dirt compared to Raonic’s 46-29 (.613)
A victory over Ramos-Vinolas, who upset No. 23 seed Jack Sock in five sets on Friday, would put Raonic into the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for second time (2014).
One shot that Raonic hit reasonably well on Friday was his two-handed backhand. The picture here provides a peak at how he grips the racquet when he returns serve – a stroke that has vastly improved this year.
The withdrawal of Rafael Nadal on Friday because of a wrist injury is a body blow for the 2016 French Open and a possible gift from the heavens for world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Nadal (above pre-tournament with Uncle Toni) will be denied a chance for his 10th title in Paris, possibly opening the way for Djokovic to win his first.
There is, of course, a further irony that Nadal now joins Roger Federer with an injury pull-out from this Roland Garros, a sign that the dominant champions of the new millennium are beginning to show their age.
In 2009, the year Federer completed his career Grand Slam with a victory in the Court Philippe Chatrier over Robin Soderling, Nadal was bothered by a knee issue (that subsequently kept him out of Wimbledon) and lost to the Soderling in the round-of-16. Now a wrist problem for the Spanish clay maestro could open the way for Djokovic (three times a runner-up, three times a semi-finalist and five beaten by Nadal at Roland Garros) to win a thus-far illusive Roland Garros title and complete his own career Grand Slam.
The immediate repercussions from the withdrawal will be that Marcel Granollers gets a walkover into the third round and up-and-comers Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev will play Saturday for a spot in Monday’s round-of-16 against the No. 56-ranked Spaniard instead of against the favoured Nadal.
It is uncanny that the highly-anticipated Djokovic–Nadal semifinal will not take place because this space was going to write about that today. Namely that Djokovic got the short shrift a year ago by playing the second semifinal (vs. Andy Murray) and having it carried over until the Saturday by darkness, affecting how fresh he would be for Sunday’s final (vs. Stan Wawrinka).
After last year’s situation, it seemed to make sense that tournament organizers might have started this year an hour earlier – at noon instead of 1 p.m. – on semifinals day to try to avoid any unfairness in the players’ readiness for the final. French tennis writers have lobbied for that change for years. But no, it’s still a 1 p.m. start.
Until Nadal pulled out it was easy to imagine he and Djokovic playing the second semifinal and, if they had a barn-burner that went four or five sets, it was possible to see it going over into Saturday depending on weather, light and the length of the first semifinal.
Of course that’s still possible even without Nadal, who instead will now likely be in Majorca celebrating his 30th birthday on that first Friday in June.
After a one-sided first set against Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and her Spanish partner Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez made things interesting in the second set, rallying from a 5-2 deficit to lead 6-5 before eventually losing 6-2, 7-6(5) the second-round match.
Dabrowski and Martinez Sanchez led the tiebreak 3-2 and there were some exciting points as the Canadian/Spanish pairing really pushed the seventh-seeded Russians.
After a crazy point, which Martinez Sanchez finished off at the net with an angled forehand volley to make it 5-5 in the tiebreak, Makarova (above on the right) and Vesnina won the final two points – an overhead winner by Makarova and a service return by Vesnina that ricocheted off the poaching Dabrowksi’s racquet.
The canine set can sometimes seem to have the run of Paris. This little guy was living the good life on the sidewalk in Paris 7ème while his masters enjoyed a libation and a dart. That typically French expression “happy hour” lasts a generous four hours – from five o’clock to nine o’clock – at this establishment.
NOTE: No blog on Saturday – back Sunday for Raonic’s round-of-16 match.