Milos Raonic played some impressive tennis in his 6-4, 7-6(7) win over Tomas Berdych at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Wednesday.
A few points stood out: a bolt backhand service return winner to break Berdych (the only one of the match) at 4-all in the opening set, a 136 mph ‘body’ ace that had Berdych ducking for safety in the second game of the second set, a crunched forehand volley winner in the fourth game and finally a beauty 116 mph kick serve to the backhand that handcuffed Berdych and saved a set point in the 12th game.
In the tiebreak there were also fine shots from Berdych including a pair of sturdy forehand winners to save match points but also two memorable clunkers – a double fault into the net at 6-all in the tiebreak and then a badly botched overhead from inside the service line on the ultimate match point.
Berdych stood for an instant somewhat bewildered after he bungled that one.
“I didn’t expect him to miss it by any means,” Raonic would say later. “I didn’t think I would have a chance in that point. I just saw when he sort of let it come down low on him that his only play was crosscourt. So I sort of tried going there, but I didn’t think I would cover it. I just saw that he missed it wide.”
It landed about a foot out but Raonic was moving in that direction and may have distracted Berdych.
All in all the numbers weren’t that impressive for Raonic – a 27/32 winners to unforced errors ratio (15/24 for Berdych). But allowances must be made for it being only his third match on the way back from a right adductor injury in the Australian Open semifinals and for his first two matches against unprepossessing clay-courter Inigo Cervantes and then an injured Bernard Tomic.
“I don’t think it was a match where you felt great but you went out there and tried to put the pieces together,” he said. “I got ahead a few service games. He served well. He got ahead. I served well. There was pretty much only one point that I would sort of have done differently. Maybe just be a little bit sharper on the second serves in the beginning service games.
“Other than that, it was all good.”
Riccardo Piatti, Raonic’s coach/co-coach for the past two years, offered his insights on what his player has done so far in Indian Wells.
“He’s coming from an injury,” said the analytical Italian in his accented English, “and compared to last year he’s a different player but not the same player that he was in Australia. What I liked is that he resolved the problems (in the match). He’s not in unbelievable shape because he just started here last Saturday (the 5th of March) to play some sets and he didn’t have rhythm in the points and I also saw that in the serve. But, at the end of the day, he understands tennis better and he tried to resolve the problems. That’s my goal for this year – I have two goals and this is one.”
The stats for Raonic at the net were 16 of 25 points won, not sensational but he was solid and demonstrated the significantly-improved net-play that marked his run to one set away from the 2016 Australian Open final in January.
“During the winter, he worked a lot on the defending part and the volley,” said Piatti. “And those two in combination give him the possibility to become a different player.”
Raonic himself is also cautious about just how well he is playing considering the five-week interruption between Melbourne Park and when he began playing points again at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “Would I expect that I was going to play like this after everything that’s been going on the last few weeks?” he said. “Definitely not.
“I just sort of tried to compete and get better with each match. I have been fortunate to do so. I give myself now a chance tomorrow (Thursday), with three matches behind me, to play even better. And I know I’m going to need to.”
Tomorrow it will be against Gael Monfils, who beat Andy Murray-conqueror Federico Delbonis 6-3, 6-4.
Here’s their head-to-head – 2-1 for Monfils:
- 2016 Australian Open quarter-final (hard) – Raonic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
- 2013 Halle first round (grass) – Monfils 6-4, 6-2
- 2012 Stockholm semifinal (indoor hard) – Monfils 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-3
“He’s getting more consistent,” Raonic said about Monfils. “He’s been doing well the last weeks. He’s been playing well. He played well in Australia. He’s played well so far here.”
French tennis journalists have been saying that there’s a re-dedicated and more committed Monfils in 2016 under the guidance of former Swedish player Mikael Tillstrom, who beat Stefan Edberg in his great compatriot’s last match at Wimbledon 20 years ago in 1996.
Monfils, now 29 and ranked two spots below Raonic at No. 16, talked to reporters at the French sports daily L’Equipe about how he hoped to play Raonic in Thursday’s 7 p.m. (10 p.m. EDT in Canada) match.
“I’m going to try to look at things differently.” Monfils said, “be solid on my service games and then just see what happens on his. In Melbourne (in January), I wasn’t happy with my first-serve percentage (61% and 14 aces). That didn’t help me. Milos is returning better. I watched his match with Berdych [6-4, 7-6(7)]. He really tried to run around and hit his forehand on the second serve and be really aggressive. If you try too much of a kicker on your second serve, he’ll hit it down-the-line. I find he really puts a lot of pressure on the second serve. It will be very important to have a good tempo with my serve and alternate between big first serves and big first/second kick or slice serves. If he gets tight, I might be able to scrape a point or two.”
Helping in the Raonic effort in 2016 is former world No. 1 (for one week after reaching the Indian Wells final in 1999), Carlos Moya. The 39-year-old Spaniard is not in Indian Wells but Raonic stays in touch by text and Moya speaks with Piatti.
“He’s always wondering what he can do better,” Raonic said about Moya, who will be in Miami next week. “He puts any kind of ego that would be there for being a former No. 1 out the door and just constantly is asking pretty much after every practice, ‘what can we do better?’
“He’s taken things from Ricardo and he’s been fairly very open. We work a limited amount of weeks together on the road, but I think he’s definitely made it a full-time job on himself – how he sort of follows things even when he may not be on the road with me.”
Late on Wednesday, this reporter went to the TV compound to check on some of Raonic’s match statistics. He met a fellow there named Manuel Hidalgo, a Spaniard, who uses an algorithm to come up with an esoteric stat referring to the “relative value” of the two players in a match. It involves taking a collection of all the positive stats and subtracting the negative ones to come up with a number for both players.
The relative value for Raonic versus Berdych was a 61, while it was 37 for the Czech.
That sounds plausible but the relative values for Rafael Nadal in his harrowing 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5 win over Alexander Zverev on Wednesday were 86.8 for him and 8.4 for his 18-year-old opponent. Hidalgo attributed the low number for Zverev to the 6-0 second set. But still, despite that, it’s hard to believe the German could get to match point at 5-4 in the third set and wind up with a relative value 10 times lower than the winner Nadal.
For the moment, Hidalgo’s relative value is not included in most stats after matches.
Nestor out of doubles
Daniel Nestor and partner Radek Stepanek were eliminated in the second round of the doubles event on Tuesday, losing 4-6, 6-4, [10-5] to seventh-seeded Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
The Nestor-Stepanek pairing led 3-1 in the second set before Nestor dropped his serve twice in a row. The eventual match tiebreak was even at 2-all before Herbert and Mahut pulled away.
A year ago, Nestor lost in the second round with Rohan Bopanna in Indian Wells before they went out in the opening round in Miami.
He had hoped to improve his current No. 12 ranking with good results on this two hard-court event swing in the U.S. So it will now be down to the Miami Open starting next week.
His long-term goal is to get his ranking into the Top 10 (by June 6 after Roland Garros) in order to be able to play in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
Vasek Pospisil (above) and partner Jack Sock, seeded sixth are in the doubles quarter-finals and will play the unseeded pairing of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Dominic Thiem not before 4 p.m. (7 p.m. EDT in Canada) on Thursday. That match is later because Thiem played the last singles match Wednesday night, losing 6-3, 6-2 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Indian Wells post card
The resort and retirement communities extending from Palm Springs to Indio in the Coachella Valley have numerous residences such as the exclusive one in the picture above. It features a mini-waterfall in front of the main guarded gate.
This house in La Quinta is an example of a more simple and traditional type of domicile in the California desert.
NOTE: Next blog on Friday morning.