Photo: Western & Southern Open

Milos Raonic came oh-so-close to a first Masters 1000 title on Saturday afternoon at the Western & Southern Open, but fell just short against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, starting off strong but succumbing 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final.

Raonic was in control from the start, dictating with his serve as always and crunching the same powerful forehands that has seen notch victories over Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas this week at the relocated Cincinnati Masters. Djokovic, for his part, appeared to be feeling the effects of his three-hour thriller against Roberto Bautista Agut, in which he struggled with neck and stomach issues throughout.

However, in tennis you can only play the cards you’re dealt, and Raonic played with composure, ignoring obvious signs of discomfort from across the court. A couple Djokovic double faults in the third game of the set was enough for Raonic to capitalize on, quickly earning a break and riding the advantage through to a swift first-set victory after 31 minutes of tennis.

But it would be a completely different story in the second set.

Despite a few early looks on the Djokovic serve, a few loose Raonic errors would give the World No. 1 a look at a break, which he immediately capitalized on with an angled backhand pass. In a blink, the fatigue plaguing Djokovic in the first set seemed obsolete and the match was levelled at 1-6, 6-3.

The unseeded Canadian gave fans at home something to cheer for early in the decisive set, manufacturing a clinical hold followed by a steely break of the Djokovic serve to take the early lead. Yet, just as he did in his semi-final, Djokovic would find a top gear with his back against the wall, proving exactly why he’s been the only player to win all nine Masters 1000 events (a feat accomplished when he won this very event two years ago).

Not only would the 17-time Grand Slam champion break back immediately, he’d secure a second break of the Raonic serve courtesy of brilliant returning and world-class retrieving to pressure Raonic into errors.

With the momentum firmly in his favour, Djokovic was able to maintain his lead and serve out the victory in just under two hours.

The loss is Raonic’s 11th in a row to Djokovic, who with his world-class returning and defensive skills, continues to be a difficult matchup for the big-serving Canadian. Nevertheless, Raonic can draw confidence from a brilliant showing this week, producing a string of high-profile wins and giving his best performance in a Masters 1000 final.

He’ll be one to watch at the US Open next week.