Milos Raonic was beaten 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-3 by John Isner in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon on Wednesday.
It was a truly competitive match for two sets but essentially Raonic’s fate was sealed when he injured his right thigh in the ninth game of the opening set – a set he would go on to win 7-5 in a tiebreak.
The second set was equally close and he had a chance to take a two-sets-to-love lead when he held a set point in the tiebreak at 6-5. Isner was serving and Raonic got the return back in play – no mean feat on a day when he only managed to return 40 per cent of the 6-foot-11 American’s serves – and forced him to hit two volleys before a weak lob was easy pickings on the smash for Isner.
Raonic saved a set point at 6-7 with a solid backhand volley that forced a passing shot error but there followed a missed backhand half-volley wide and a 130 mph service winner by Isner to level the match at a set apiece.
Neither player had a break point in the first two sets – no surprise when considering the ability of both to first strike with monster serves, which contributed to dislodging the net camera necessitating an adjustment (above) by umpire Mohamed Lahyani. Just by the numbers, Raonic was slightly superior over the first two sets, losing just seven points in 12 service games to 10 in 12 games for Isner.
After the second set, things began to go south for Raonic. From the time he lost his serve in the fifth game of the third set – with the last two points being a double fault and deep Isner service return that forced a forehand error – the course of the match irreversibly turned and its origins can be traced back to the Raonic thigh injury in the first set.
He had it heavily taped from nearly hip to knee when he received a medical time-out leading 6-5. By the third set it had gradually become clear that his movement was effected. Isner began teeing off with much greater frequency on his service returns and there was obvious difficulty for Raonic planting for shots and discomfort when he pulled up after extended runs.
“The service game and a half before I called for the trainer,” was Raonic’s explanation for exactly when he first felt the injury.
Asked how it felt, he said, “it feels like a tear of the muscle. I don’t know to what extent. That’s sort of the sensation I had.”
He said serving was the hardest thing for him. “To sort of transfer the weight to be able to jump on my serve,” he explained about the effect of the thigh. “Doing that every single point I was serving was the hardest part.”
He said his belief faded after Isner broke him to lead 3-2 in the fourth set. “Before that I can hope to hold, to try to put a few things together – maybe play a good return point or two in the tiebreak and maybe take care of my serve. But once I got behind a break it was going to be tough.”
It’s heart-breaking loss for the 27-year-old Raonic. He has had his greatest success at Wimbledon – reaching the final in 2016 (Andy Murray), the semi-finals in 2014 (Roger Federer) and the quarter-finals last year (Federer).
When coach Goran Ivanisevic came on board in March, the 2001 Wimbledon champion told him that everything he did going forward would be with the aim of performing well at Wimbledon. And essentially Raonic did that until the thigh issue diminished him as the match went on against Isner on Wednesday.
There could have been thoughts of increased chances for success this year when eight-time champion Federer was upset by Kevin Anderson in the match that preceded Raonic’s on Court No. 1. But he insisted, “I don’t think that result made any difference.”
The worrisome thing for Raonic is that all his lower body injuries have happened on the right side. After he lost to Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, 2017, he was asked about any possible explanation for the reoccurring right adductor problem that affected him during that match. “I’ve had surgery (July, 2011) on that (right) hip,” he replied. “I’m hoping that’s not any reason why I struggled.”
Since then there has been a right hamstring injury in Delray Beach, a right calf problem in Tokyo, and a right knee issue in November while training – all in 2017. This year the knee has somewhat limited his play, forcing him out of the French Open and allowing him to train during some of that period on grass in London.
Then there was the pectoral strain that caused him to withdraw after one match from the Queen’s Club tournament before Wimbledon. And now – the right thigh injury.
Raonic had been wearing leggings to help the right knee warm up and stay warm (above) on cooler days at Wimbledon, but he didn’t have them on for the Isner match. “It was considerably warmer today,” he said. “I warmed up without them.”
About actually wearing the all-white leggings in a Wimbledon match, he said, “I don’t know what the rule is on them. I don’t think it would be an issue.”
Raonic, whose ranking will move up from No. 32 to No. 30 after Wimbledon, next intends to play the Rogers Cup in Toronto beginning August 6th.
As for the 33-year-old Isner, he has reached the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career in his 41st Grand Slam tournament, which he claimed was “amazing.” That includes a run of 94 service games without being broken.
Long known for the memorable 70-68 final-set victory over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010, he said, “for a lot of people, that’s definitely the lasting image of my career. I think maybe if I keep going further here, maybe I can squash that.”
Isner, champion at the Miami Open in March, claims he’s playing the best tennis of his career.
As for Raonic, the pectoral problem at Queen’s – despite getting five matches in reaching the Stuttgart final and losing to Federer the week before – deprived him of the vital, top-quality competition he needed to peak his physical and his mental game going into Wimbledon.
When was asked if his level of play at Wimbledon this year had been the highest so far in his career, he said, “tennis-wise as a player, yes. But I think I struggled with a few things mentally just because I haven’t had matches. There wasn’t that sort of ease. I sort of really had to be disciplined, push through because there wasn’t that ease of having played a lot of matches and dealt with a lot of different situations over the recent period of time. I had to be a bit more demanding of myself. I think I played pretty well.”
The Rogers Cup in Toronto, Cincinnati a then the US Open loom as his next challenges, with the hopes that he can he fit and perform at the level he did until Wednesday – a level that had most observers placing him among the top five contenders for the Wimbledon title this year.
Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan reached the doubles semi-finals on Wednesday with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory over veterans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.
They bounced back from a first-set loss to beat the five-time Grand Slam champion, USA/Czech duo in two hours and two minutes on Court No. 3.
It’s a first Grand Slam semi-final for 26-year-old Dabrowski and Xu, who turns 30 on August 8th – better known in tennis as the birthday of Roger Federer (and Felix Auger-Aliassime).
“I was really pleased with the way we came back in the second set,” Dabrowski said. “We started out strong, tactically we were doing the right things. We held our service games. It was a very good turnaround.”
They made one strategic change – with Xu (or ‘Julie’ as Dabrowski calls her) serving from the opposite end to the first set. “I felt Julie’s serve would have more movement on it if we switched sides,” Dabrowski said. “I think it did (into the wind) and that allowed me to be a bit more active at the net.”
In the semi-finals on Friday, Dabrowski and Xu, seeded sixth, will play the No. 12 seeds Nicole Melichar of the U.S. and Czech Kveta Peschke. On Wednesday they were 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 winners over Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Mihaela Buzarnescu.
“They’ve been playing together for a while now, “ Dabrowski said about the No. 33-ranked Melichar, 24, and No. 21 Peschke, 33. “They’ve been taking the steps to improve as a team and that’s showing. I’m definitely familiar with both of them – we played them at Indian Wells (winning 6-4, 7-5) in the second round. We know kind of what to expect.”
Dabrowski and partner Mate Pavic, seeded No. 1, went out in the their opening match in the mixed doubles on Tuesday, losing 6-3, 6-4 to British wild cards Jay Clarke and Harriet Dart.
“We weren’t really in form,” she said about herself and Pavic, winners of the mixed title at the Aussie Open in January and runners-up at Roland Garros last month. “I wasn’t serving that well and my partner as well. We were both a little bit off. Our opponents played great. Clarke was very solid, he served well. He was very active at the net and his returns were very precise. So it was hard to get and free points and Harriet also handled the volleys quite well. She added with a smile “c’est dommage.”
Indian food lovers will be pleased with the ad on the side of this double-decker bus in central London. There’s a great view on the second level of these buses but the climb up and down the curving stairs can be a little perilous if the bus is moving.
NOTE: No blog on Thursday – back Friday.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)