Milos Raonic survived a sketchy start before coming on strong to defeat Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, 7-5 on Thursday at Wimbledon.
Broken on four points in his first service game by the No. 82-ranked Youzhny, Raonic was quickly down 3-0. He had three break points to get back on serve in the seventh game but Youzhny survived them and soon closed out the first set in 32 minutes.
The 35-year-old Russian was pumped and Raonic appeared to be fighting some internal battles with himself.
There were no break points in the second set before Raonic faced a dicey situation with Youzhny leading 6-4 – two set points – in the second set tiebreak. He caught a break on the first one when his miss-hit service return landed in but he then took control of the point with aggressive play that forced a Youzhny error. The second set point was saved with a 125 mph service winner. Four points later another service winner meant the match score was even at one-set apiece.
The beginning of the third set established the tone for the rest of the contest. Raonic broke serve in the opening game on five points – the last one a double fault by Youzhny. In the very next game he made a strong statement when he held serve to 30 – with all four winning points being aces. He lost a grand total of three points on serve in the set and wrapped it up in 35 minutes.
Set four was more competitive with Raonic facing a set point trailing 5-4. He saved it with a big 129 mph serve and an easy forehand put-away. In the next game he broke Youzhny to love and then served out to 30 for the victory and a spot in Saturday’s third round against Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain.
Asked at his post-match media conference to rate his performance against Youzhny, Raonic turned the tables on a reporter and finally said that it has been somewhere between ‘fantastic’ and ‘regular’ – with the third option having been ‘poor.’
He conceded that set No. 1 was not to his satisfaction. “That was a bad start,” he said. “Then I tried to turn it around – I had those three break points (trailing 4-2) and didn’t make the most of them. I was fortunate I didn’t get down two sets to love.”
The glass half full part of the match was the third and fourth sets. “Today I ended better than I did two days ago (against No. 53 Jan Lennard Struff of Germany) and if that continues to be the case, hopefully the momentum can speed up bit by bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m giving myself the possibility to achieve what I’d like.”
Raonic’s numbers were solid for the whole match with 58 winners (almost half of them 27 aces) compared to 32 unforced errors. His break point conversion rate was 2/6 and he didn’t lose serve after that startling opening service game of the match.
Ramos-Vinolas in the third round would have to be considered a good draw for the seventh-seeded Raonic but the 29-year-old Spaniard did beat him 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in the round-of-16 at the French Open last year. But that was on a damp day on clay and Raonic may have been suffering with a left hip issue from his previous match.
In their only other meeting, in Davis Cup in Vancouver in 2013, Raonic prevailed 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
“He’s had a pretty good year so far,” Raonic said about Ramos-Vinolas. (And that is confirmed by the fact that the Spaniard is currently No. 14 in the ATP Race based on 2017 results while Raonic is No. 16.)
But grass should be a completely different ballgame as regards the match-up. “This (grass) is not necessarily his most natural surface,” Raonic said about Ramos-Vinolas. (His own record at Wimbledon is 18-6 while Ramos-Vinolas is just 5-4.) “It’s going to be about trying to take the racquet and the decision-making abilities out of his hand and try to sort of dictate and play on my terms as much as possible.”
A win could potentially set up an appetizing encounter with No. 10 seed Sascha Zverev in Monday’s round-of-16.
Reminded by a British reporter that he had said a year ago that he would leave no stone unturned to get a title at Wimbledon, Raonic responded, “Am I as far along as I would have liked? Probably not. I would not have liked to worry about health the last 12 months, that’s been sort of my biggest battle.
“But with every situation that I faced, as unique as it was, I dealt with it the best way I could and made what I thought were the best decisions with all the information I had at each moment.”
Those injuries over the past 12 months have included periods of inactivity due to a right ankle, right quadriceps, right adductor and right hamstring issues.
But he is now playing his seventh event without any apparent physical problem.
Toward the end of his media conference, Raonic was asked several questions about aspects of his life and his profession. When it came to the day-to-day business of being a world-class tennis player and his motivation, he offered this thought: “I think there are two types of athletes that succeed. Ones that hate losing and ones that enjoy winning. I think I fall into a category within – I don’t think one is better or worse than the other – but I think I fall into the category of athletes that hate losing. The winning does its thing for me, but it’s not nearly to the magnitude of how much I despise losing.”
Raonic, as well as his fans, will hope that he can avoid any hateful feelings between now and the end of this year’s Wimbledon.
ADIL LOSES A DOOZY
They have shortened doubles matches on the ATP World Tour with No-Ad scoring and match tiebreaks instead of a third set – but traditional Wimbledon insists on best-of-five sets, regular scoring and no final-set tiebreaks.
That resulted in Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., and his Indian partner Leander Paes, being on Court 8 for a full four hours before losing 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(2), 10-8 to Austrians Julian Knowle and Philipp Oswald on Thursday.
The final set was very even with both teams holding serve until Knowle and Oswald had a break point at 8-all on the Paes serve. Paes and Shamasdin saved that one break point but on the second Oswald whaled a forehand cross-court winner.
In the final game, the 6-foot-7 Oswald was serving and held to love, finishing with an ace.
It was a match featuring the speed and quickness of the 5-foot-11 Shamasdin and the 5-foot-10 Paes against the craftiness of the 6-foot-2 Knowle and the rangy Oswald’s raw power.
Shamasdin reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon with Jonathan Marray of Britain a year ago and so his current No. 42 ranking will drop as a result of the first-round loss to about No. 47 .
THE WIMBLEDON COSTUME PARTY
This has to be an all-time variation of the Wimbledon strawberry theme – hats off to the guy for imagination.
— Service à la cuillère (@servicecuillere) July 6, 2017
PARTY LIKE IT’S CANADA’S 150th (No. 4)
The Rogers Cup sesquicentennial party for Canadians in London last Saturday got a little rambunctious as the evening wore on. In this shot Daniel Nestor is crowning Montreal tournament director Eugene Lapierre with a floppy Canadian hat – much to the surprise of Lapierre, at least if you go by his facial expression.
LONDON POST CARD
The Dog and Fox pub on Wimbledon High Street is a popular spot for thirsty, social patrons during Wimbledon. This decorated window on a street-side – a tennis-playing dog and fox – shows how the establishment gets into the spirit of Wimbledon every year.
NOTE: No blog on Friday, back for the Raonic – Ramos-Vinolas match on Saturday.