It took a set to get going but Milos Raonic found his cruising speed on Monday, getting stronger as the match went on to defeat Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(4) at Wimbledon.
The outcomes weren’t as positive for Vasek Pospisil and Bianca Andreescu as they played below par in opening-round losses. A far-from-sharp Pospisil was beaten 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 by No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem while the 17-year-old Andreescu’s inexperience played a part in a 6-4, 6-3 loss to 27-year-old Kristina Kucova of Slovakia.
For Pospisil it was basically a bad day at the office. For Andreescu it was more a matter of letting the occasion – her first main-draw match at a Grand Slam event – get the better of her.
Raonic was playing in his 91st Grand Slam match – his 23rd at Wimbledon – and he called on his experience to get through a match when he didn’t get broken until his 17th service game when he served for the match at 5-4 in the third set.
It was a competitive affair at the outset in the opening set, with Raonic having two breaks points in Struff’s first service game, two in his third and one in his fourth – all without converting.
Considering he had failed to break Thanasi Kokkinakis’ serve in nine chances in a 7-6(5), 7-6(8) first-round loss at Queen’s Club two weeks ago – that made 14 in a row without cashing in. His coach Mark Knowles later suggested that those kinds of things can play on a player’s mind.
But once Raonic won the first-set tiebreak – breaking an extremely uncharacteristic (and unlikely) streak of eight lost tiebreaks in a row – he began to motor and the 27-year-old German really wasn’t in the match after losing serve in the opening game of the second set until he managed his only break trailing 5-4 in the third.
(BTW – those eight lost tiebreaks were to Kokkinakis (2) at Queen’s, Pablo Carreno Busta (2) at Roland Garros, Tomas Berdych (2) in Lyon, Sascha Zverev (1) Rome and Marin Cilic (1) in Istanbul.)
Part of the first set edginess from Raonic was undoubtedly due to his loss at Queen’s Club and his lack of match play compared to a year ago when he reached the final (five matches). “The beginning of the first set felt like déjà vu of two weeks ago,” he said. “I really stepped up and did a better job for the rest of the match.
“Obviously I would like to have had more matches on grass leading in to this tournament.”
He converted just three of 13 break points – but that’s a respectable ratio of three of eight after that nervy first set.
In terms of other stats – he was 55/30 in winners to unforced errors compared to the 6-foot-5 German’s 16/7 and he was 26 of 39 net points (67 per cent), which is something he’s likely to try to build on in future matches.
“I did a lot of good things today,” Raonic said, “especially from the attitude side. I was pretty imposing. I did those things well which are important, especially across two weeks here hopefully – just to have the right attitude and then the rest of the game will follow.”
Next in the second round for the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up is 35-year-old Mikhail Youzhny who defeated Nicolas Mahut 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 on Tuesday. (As an aside, Mahut, who won the Newport grass-court event following Wimbledon in 2013, won’t be able to play this year because he will be busy acting as the best man at fellow player Julien Benneteau’s wedding.)
Raonic is 2-1 versus Youzhny – having beaten him during his big breakthrough at the 2011 Australian Open and at Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2013. Last fall, right after the US Open, Raonic lost to the Muscovite in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 on a day when everything seemed to break Youzhny’s way after Raonic served for the match at 6-5 in the second set and led the tiebreak 5-1.
Things are likely to be different on Thursday against Youzhny who now ranks No. 82 and has an 8-12 record so far in 2017.
About the match, Raonic said, “internal discipline for myself to be able to impose and dictate with my game is going to be the most important thing for me.”
His post-match media conference ended with a little tomfoolery – here were the exchanges:
The headband, new statement?
I think it took like a week off, no?
Hasn’t been gone that long. I’ve had it over the last
Is it a permanent Wimbledon fashion
You know what, I’m going to have to
keep you guessing. You’ll actually have to
watch my matches this way to know if it’s stuck
Not going to see the sleeve any more either?
I had it in my bag, but I didn’t bring
it out today.
That’s a big scoop. I thought it was long gone.
MILOS RAONIC: (smiling)
Vasek Pospisil’s performance was hard to fathom in that it was no huge surprise that he lost to as good an opponent as the world No. 8 Thiem, but it was that he later spoke about how he had just not been able to play up to the standard he would expect of himself.
Thiem was complimentary to Pospisil after the match saying, “I’m very happy to beat such a good opponent on grass in three sets. I was serving decent, the return was there and also from the baseline – we didn’t have too many rallies – but I had good power in my strokes. All and all it was a great match.”
That was hardly Pospisil’s view. “I didn’t feel good particularly anywhere in my game, which was an issue,” he said. “I didn’t serve well, didn’t feel good in my legs, didn’t feel fast. It’s always going to be tough if I’m not serving well and I felt like today the conditions weren’t particularly fast. It was also tough because he hits the ball very hard. The combination of not serving well from my end was giving him the time to set up and hit through the court.”
Pospisil took a tumble in the sixth game of the first set and seemed like he might be injured. But he continued and later explained, “for three or four points my hip was aching but he hit four good serves so I don’t think I would have done much.”
Pospisil didn’t manage to have a break point on the Thiem serve during the match while the 23-year-old Austrian converted on four of 14 chances.
A telling stat was that, facing the power and accuracy of Thiem’s passing shots, Pospisil won only 29 of 51 net points (57 per cent) while Thiem was 15 of 20 (75 percent.)
Pospisil explaining his poor outing continued, “it was a combination of the conditions, him playing well and me just, compared to the last seven weeks, it’s the worst I’ve felt all around. I was just kind of doing everything mediocre. Not the way I needed to play today.
“I felt really good the last couple of days – moving really well and feeling sharp and today, even in the warm-up, I was a little heavy. I don’t know what the reason was behind it. He played well too and I was flat – then you’re going to lose in straight sets.
“There’s another tournament in three weeks, there’s four Grand Slams every year. You can’t plan where you’re going to suddenly feel really well and where you’re going to peak. You try to but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Pospisil will now play the doubles event with Benneteau and then head home to Vernon, B.C., where his older brother Petr is getting married on July 27th.
He said his tennis plans include playing ATP events in Atlanta, Washington and then Rogers Cup in Montreal.
There was probably too much pre-match optimism about Andreescu’s chances against the No. 105-ranked Kucova, who hadn’t played Wimbledon since 2009. But she’s a crafty player – two-handed on both sides – and Andreescu appeared to be a little overwhelmed by the occasion.
Kucova was able to control most of the rallies – helped too often by Andreescu unforced errors – and not allow her opponent to build any momentum.
“I’m not as proud of myself as I was of the way I was playing in the qualies,” Andreescu said. “I don’t think I played my best tennis today but it’s experience that I need.”
No doubt Wimbledon and her big chance at the grandest of tennis tournaments didn’t help her normally solid concentration. “I think I was thinking about too much stuff during the match,” she said. “I wasn’t really focused on my game. Things were rushing through my head but I guess it was unconscious. It was just popping through my head. I tried to stay focused more on the match but it comes with experience. I’m going to take it as a positive and move on.”
About Kucova’s double-handed tennis, Andreescu remarked, “I haven’t played anyone like that. Sometimes she would just hit with one hand and I was kind of confused by it. She was more aggressive today than I was. When you’re on grass, the more aggressive player wins.”
Andreescu now plans to go to Romania with her parents “for a couple of days just to relax a bit and then back to work. I have a busy schedule in the summer.”
That likely includes the National Bank Challenger in Granby, Que., qualifying at the WTA event in Washington, D.C., Rogers Cup in Toronto, qualifying for the US Open and then the WTA National Bank Cup in Quebec City.
P.K. PRESENCE AT BIG W
Toronto Rogers Cup tournament director Kale Hale is known to be well-connected – here he is Tuesday on the players’ lawn at Wimbledon with a certain Nashville Predators defenseman with the initials P.K.
PARTY LIKE IT’S CANADA’S 150th (Part 2)
During the Rogers Cup party in London to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial last Saturday, several players made speeches. They included 44-year-old Daniel Nestor who talked about how his family emigrated from Serbia and how he’s grateful for all that Canada has done for him.
LONDON POST CARD
This shot of Fulham Road shows six modes of getting around in London – car, double-decker bus, motorcycle, bicycle, Underground (subway) and on foot.