Milos has had his problems getting out of the gate during the 2017 Wimbledon and his 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Sascha Zverev in Monday’s round-of-16 was no exception.
He lost his serve, starting with a double fault, to 15 in the third game of the match and it could have been worse because he wound up saving five more to avoid going down a double break. Zverev didn’t face a single break point and served and hit big off the ground to dominate the first set.
He kept that up into the second, breaking in the opening game but Raonic broke back to 3-3 and then took advantage of a shaky final game of the second by the German to break again and level matters at a set apiece.
The third and fourth sets resembled the first and second, with Zverev only needing a break to 4-3 in the third set to take it and then stumbling again in the final game of the fourth set – after having a 40-15 lead – to lose it 7-5 and enter a fifth and deciding set.
Raonic reached a comfortable cruising speed in that set – winning his first two service games to love, belting a pair of aces in each of them. He broke Zverev in the fourth game to lead 3-1 and build on that to break again in the sixth game and close out the match 6-1 in a 27-minute final frame.
Through most of the first four sets, Zverev was the better player but there were times, particularly in the fourth set, when Raonic locked in and bore down, showing his 20-year-old, power-hitting opponent that he was willing to grind it out in rallies. It wasn’t so much technique or tactics as much as willpower that kept him in the match when the 6-foot-6 Zverev was imposing himself.
Post-match Raonic was asked about the grit he had demonstrated at times when things looked dire and Zverev was having it his way. “That was the most important
thing,” he said. “There were a lot of moments where it didn’t look necessarily to be going my way. I just tried to stick around, tried to show in a way that I just wanted it badly, if not more. It paid off.”
That could be chalked up to experience especially against a young, at times temperamental competitor who many observers see as a potential future No. 1 and a multiple Grand Slam title winner.
Raonic was certainly more efficient on break point chances – winning five of eight and two of three in the fifth set – while Zverev was a measly three of 17.
The lanky German with the long levers, strong serve (above) and excellent movement for a big player, was clearly upset about his opportunities missed. “I felt like every set, except the fifth one, I should have won – and should have won probably easier,” the world No. 12 said. “I should have won the first set with two breaks, should have won the second set with a break up. Third set, that was fine – 6-4. Fourth set, as well. I had the feeling I could have broken him about three, four games, so…it’s just frustrating.”
While Raonic’s resilience was obviously getting to Zverev in the fifth set – the No. 6 seed won 16 of 18 first serve points and capitalized on two of three break point chances – Zverev offered a different perspective. “The fifth set, the sun was a little bit in the way,” he said. “It was tough to play from both sides. One side was the shade, the other side was the sun completely in the way.
“You know him coming in all the time, you have to be accurate on the court, which it’s tough to be in those conditions.”
Raonic won 61 of 97 net points (63 per cent) and his backhand slice was key to his success – both in approaches to the net and in countering Zverev’s awesome backhand in their frequent cross-court rallies.
After four matches, Raonic has now lost two opening sets – second match against Mikhail Youzhny and fourth again Zverev – and won two first-set tiebreaks – against Jan Lennard Struff in the first round and against Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the third. He has not really been on his game at the start.
“I think just maybe it’s lack of matches,” Raonic suggested. (He only had one match on grass entering Wimbledon – a first-round loss at Queen’s Club to Thanasi Kokkinakis in two tiebreak sets.) “It’s taken me a few moments to really get settled in, sort of dialed down on what’s important, what’s going to get me through to win.”
The victory over Zverev sets up the highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s semifinal with Roger Federer, won 6-3, 6-7(3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 by Raonic. That’s only one of his three victories over the almighty Swiss in 12 tries. But he prevailed in both of their most recent matches – Wimbledon ’16 and 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the ATP 250 in Brisbane at the beginning of 2016.
“I feel like as a shot-for-shot player I’m better,” Raonic said about comparing the 25-year-old version of himself a year ago with this year’s 26-year-old model. “I just feel like I’m still sort of trying to find that rhythm that I had last year, playing a lot of matches consistently.
“It doesn’t mean it can’t come, but I’ve just got to be sharp each and every point during the next match.”
There’s no debating that Federer, rejuvenated at nearly 36 (on August 8th), is the benchmark in tennis these days, so Raonic will have to raise his level to have a shot at the seven-time champion on Wednesday.
When asked if he thought about his 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4) loss to Andy Murray in last year’s Wimbledon final, Raonic said, “Not really. Not really so much any more. It’s given me a lot of fuel, motivation and everything. But tennis moves on too quickly. There’s been too many Slams since. There’s been too many matches, good ones, bad ones. Too many injuries. It feels like it was more than a year ago.”
The hamstring issue that interrupted his season from March until early May is now a thing of the past under the supervision of new fitness trainer Michal Novotny. Wimbledon is his seventh event in a row without anything major affecting his ability to play at a top level.
He has to hope that the four matches he has had in reaching the quarter-finals – for the third time in four years in London SW 19 – gives him the match play required to be at his best against Federer.
There have been dicey moments along the way in Wimbledon 2017, but he has always been stronger at the finish than at the beginning and that will have to be the case in the quarter-finals against Federer – in what will likely be a Centre Court match.
When Raonic finished on Monday, he had played five sets and gone through three sets of his New Balance, special ‘pimpled’ grass court shoes – as per his routine of changing shoes after every two sets.
His post-match interview was taking place as Gilles Muller led Rafael Nadal 14-13 in the fifth set of an enthralling Centre Court match. When a reporter joked with Raonic about what he would do in terms of shoes if he got involved in such an extended final set, he casually said, “I’d call somebody from my box to go home and pick up some more.”
NESTOR INTO MIXED THIRD ROUND
Daniel Nestor and his Slovenian partner Andreja Klepac won their second round of the mixed doubles on Monday defeating Purav Raja of India and Eri Hozumi of Japan by a 6-2, 7-5 score.
Nestor, 44, and Klepac, 31, had a bye in the first round and will now face Andre Begeman of Germany and American Nicole Melichar in the round-of-16.
Nestor has only won the Wimbledon mixed title once – in 2013 with Kristina Mladenovic of France.
BRANSTINE WINS GIRLS SINGLES OPENER
Carson Branstine reached the second round of her first Wimbledon girls singles event on Monday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 15-year-old Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia.
The 16-year-old from Montreal will next play 17-year-old Elysia Bolton of the U.S.A.
“It’s the first round at Wimbledon and I was a little bit nervous going into my match,” Branstine said. “It’s a new experience but I’m glad I won.”
The No. 6 seed could not be more pleased about the court surface at the All England Club. “I love grass, honestly,” she said. “I wish the whole year was on grass. It fits my game nicely. I enjoy the grass and I can’t wait to play more matches on it.”
Canada’s top junior, Bianca Andreescu, is skipping the junior event to prepare for a busy summer after qualifying and losing in the first round of the women’s main draw at Wimbledon. “Of course I miss Bianca,” said Branstine, who won the Aussie Open and Roland Garros junior girls doubles with the 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont. “She’s one of my best friends, my doubles partner and she obviously doing amazing in her career. She’s on to the next level now and I’m happy for her. But I definitely miss her.”
MATTEK-SANDS & FRIENDS
It was one of the most horrifying injuries on a tennis court in recent years – Bethanie Mattek-Sands crumbling in pain in her right knee – dislocated patellar and ruptured patellar tendon. She was playing Sorana Cirstea of Romania in a second-round match at the time and Cirstea and Sania Mirza (above) visited Mattek-Sands in her hospital room over the weekend.
PARTY LIKE IT’S CANADA’S 150th (No. 7)
Vanessa Webb is a former Canadian player who ranked as high as No. 107 (2000) and won the 1998 NCAA singles championship while at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
She currently works at the Parthenon Group, a consulting firm, in Boston and is active on the WTA board of directors. Here she is with her three-year-old son Finn at the Rogers Cup sesquicentennial of Canada party in London last week.
LONDON POST CARD
Cannizaro House, part of the Hotel du Vin group, is one of the closest hotels to the All England Club. It’s about a 20 minute walk up Church Road and across Wimbledon Common. Needless to say it’s booked up this weekend but the following weekend is available for a two-night stay for 478 pounds (almost $800 Can.). Online reviews are not entirely flattering about the hotel’s service.