It has often been noted that Roger Federer beat Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago, with the inference being that the result might have some affect on their meeting Friday at 1 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT in Canada) in Centre Court.
Federer leads Raonic 9-2 in the head-to-head but there were circumstances surrounding some of the encounters that are worth recalling.
Here are all 11 with a brief commentary after each one:
2012: Indian Wells R32 (hard): Federer def. Raonic 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4. Raonic, just 21 years old, offered a serious challenge in his first-ever meeting with Federer.
2012: Madrid R32 (clay): Federer def. Raonic 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4). Played on the infamous blue clay that year, Raonic pushed Federer to the limit.
2012: Halle QF (grass): Federer def. Raonic 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(3). Facing Federer on a third different surface in three months, Raonic was impressive again versus the grass-court master on his favourite turf.
2013 Australian Open R16 (hard): Federer def. Raonic 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2. Raonic was suffering with the Morton’s Neuroma toe nerve condition that eventually led to surgery on May 11, 2015. He required an injection to kill the pain before he could even think about playing the match.
2014 Wimbledon SF (grass): Federer def. Raonic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Broken in the very first game, Raonic never recovered and was not quite mature enough mentally and physically to handle the intimidating experience of Federer on his beloved Centre Court.
2014 Cincinnati SF (hard): Federer def. Raonic 6-2, 6-3. The week after a disappointing quarter-final loss to Feliciano Lopez at home at Rogers Cup in Toronto, this was one of Raonic’s poorest efforts. He made just 43 per cent of first serves in a 69-minute loss to the Swiss.
2014 Paris/Bercy SF (indoor hard): Raonic def. Federer 7-6(5), 7-5. The first win for Raonic, Federer had won his home tournament in Basel the previous week and may have been a little jaded.
2014 ATP World Tour Finals London RR (indoor hard): Federer def. Raonic 6-1, 7-6(0). Raonic lost to Federer and then Murray before pulling out of his third match with a quad issue. Federer went on to humble Andy Murray 6-0, 6-1 after building a 6-0, 5-0 in the final round-robin match!
2015 Brisbane F (hard): Federer def. Raonic 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-4: Raonic was so dominant and so explosive for much of the match that a shell-shocked and irritable Federer cursed in French but somehow still managed to pull off the victory in a high-quality encounter.
2015 Indian Wells SF (hard): Federer def. Raonic 7-5, 6-4. Raonic had saved three match points in upsetting Rafael Nadal in the previous round but was broken in his final service game of the first set and his first game of the second in the 86-minute match at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
2016 Brisbane F (hard): Raonic def. Federer 6-4, 6-4. Avenging a match loss he probably deserved to win a year earlier in Brisbane, Raonic overpowered Federer who had been fighting flu-like symptoms all week.
Now with the two set to play for a 12th time, but only the third time in a Grand Slam event, Federer’s fitness is a topic of discussion after his three-hour and 17-minute comeback from two-sets down over Marin Cilic on Wednesday. That’s only normal after he had back issues this spring and missed his first Grand Slam since the 1999 US Open (65 in a row) at Roland Garros nine weeks ago.
The 34-year-old Swiss, playing the semifinal exactly one month before he turns 35, was observed on Thursday while he practiced for half an hour on Court 6 with his coach Ivan Ljubicic. Reports about Federer vary from a Swiss reporter who said, “he had a light, fun practice as he usually does during a Grand Slam. The back looked all right.” Another suggested, “he looked like a 50-year-old man.”
Whatever his practice was like, Federer seems highly motivated, particularly with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic out of the way, to try for what could be a final flourish at Wimbledon. Even Raonic’s consulting coach John McEnroe admitted he has been impressed, saying after the memorable quarter-final against Cilic, “think about this – Roger Federer going to play tune-up events (Stuttgart and Halle) against people that everyone thinks he should beat knowing that he’s going to lose some of these matches in order to get the rust off and be ready for situations like this.”
Raonic, with a second Grand Slam semifinal in the books – a tough five-set loss to Andy Murray at the 2016 Aussie Open that he dominated for the first three sets before an adductor issue restricted him – should be much better prepared for the occasion.
“I think I’m definitely a step further along,” he said comparing his current form to his play in Rod Laver Arena in January. “I think my attitude, my mental prowess on court has definitely improved. Hopefully that makes a difference.”
In 2016, Federer has been affected by the flu-like situation in Brisbane, the knee meniscus surgery after the Australian Open, a gastro problem that forced him to pull out of the Miami Open in March and the back issue that made him withdraw from the Madrid Open in May and ultimately Roland Garros.
He has not won a tournament in six tries this year and has only beaten one Top 10 player – No. 6 Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open. Raonic has four Top 10 wins – No. 3 Federer in Brisbane, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open, No. 9 Berdych in Indian Wells and No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Madrid.
In the ATP Race – based on results thus far in 2016 – Raonic stands at No. 6 with 2,635 points while Federer is No. 12 with 1,410.
Looking at match statistics over the first five matches heading into the big confrontation Friday, two are probably worth noting. Raonic has been impressive in his net approaches over the tournament – winning 145/216 for a 67 per cent success rate. But Federer has been even better – 126/170 for 74 per cent.
Many pundits believe returning serve may be the key to the outcome – Raonic has made 64 per cent of his returns in play while Federer is at 71 per cent.
There are also a few kooky stats – such as the fact that Raonic has 17 double faults for the tournament while Federer has just two – both in the Cilic match on Wednesday.
As for the vanishing art of serve-and-volley tennis, Raonic has won 99/133 of S&V attempts or 74 per cent while Federer’s smaller sample size gives him 37/52 or 71 per cent. The most remarkable of the four semifinalists in that category is Murray with an unlikely ‘zero’ serve-and-volley points played.
McEnroe, doing double-duty as a broadcaster for BBC and ESPN and a coach for Raonic, said about what his man has to do against Federer, “as far as Milos Raonic goes, it is key for him to play the match on his terms. Like Cilic did for a lot of their match, he’s got to take the racquet out of Federer’s hands. Being as big as anyone out there – he didn’t play up to his ability two years ago and a lot of that had to do with Federer. But I think he’s a better player now.”
McEnroe has been talking about how he wants Raonic to show more emotion, especially positive emotion on court. During the Queen’s Club tournament where he was runner-up three weeks ago, there was quite a bit of smiling on court by Raonic. There has been less of that during Wimbledon – maybe he is now saving it for after his matches are finished.
Shapovalov – Last man standing
Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., is the lone remaining Canadian in the boys singles event following his 6-4, 6-2 win over Mate Valkusz of Hungry on Thursday. The fifth-seeded 17-year-old won his fourth match in a row without dropping a set and will next face top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in Friday’s semifinal. It will be a rematch of a quarter-final at the French Open last month, won 6-4, 6-2 by Shapovalov.
“I think I played very well, served very well,” said Shapovalov about the match against Valkusz. “My serve helped me focus on returning today. I got the break at 4-all in the first set, which helped me. In the second set I had a lot of confidence and he made a couple of mistakes when he shouldn’t have and that was the match.”
Félix Auger-Aliassime, seeded third following his runner-up finish at the French Open last month, was beaten 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-2 by No. 7 Alex De Minaur of Australia.
“It’s surprising,” Shapovalov said about the result. “De Minaur is a tough match but I was surprised because Félix was up and then I came to watch a little bit of third set to cheer him on.”
“The match was really decided in the second set,” Auger-Aliassime, 15, said about his loss to the 17-year-old De Minaur. “I started the match well and I was doing the right things but in the second set I was not as aggressive as I should have been and that let him get back into the match. Mentally it was tough, and physically too.”
Quickly down 4-0 in the final set, it was too steep a hill to climb for Auger-Aliassime. “He stayed in the match better than I did and he fought harder in the third set,” the Montrealer admitted.
The final set was a disappointment from Auger-Aliassime, who seemed to lose intensity after the second set, at the end of which he uncharacteristically swore and got a warning from the umpire.
Later in the day, as the No. 1 seeds, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov reached the quarter-finals of the boys doubles defeating Ting-Lin Wu of Taipei and Yibing Wu of China 7-5, 6-1. They next face the unseeded pairing of Youssef Hossam of Egypt and Ergi Kirkin of Turkey.
As Auger-Aliassime explained to three Canadian reporters, ITF officials introduced a single combined ranking – points are 75% singles and 25% doubles – because many juniors were only entering the singles events. So the ITF Junior Rankings can sometimes be a little misleading.
The picture above was taken at the US Open last year with Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime on their way to winning the title.
Discussing their friendship on Thursday, Shapovalov said, “I’d say that we’re practically brothers. He’s like family to me. We have a great relationship and wish the best for each other.”
“We’ve known each other since eight or nine years old – in the under-10s,” Auger-Aliassime added.
In girls doubles on Thursday, Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Que., and her partner Karman Kaur Thandi of Indonesia lost a nail-biter against the top-seeded Russian pair of Olga Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova. The final score was 7-6(4), 4-6, 11-9.
Wimbledon post card
Fred Perry was Wimbledon champion in 1934-35-36 and is a revered figure in British tennis as well as a contemporary fashion icon with the widely-sold “laurel reef” clothing line named after him.
The statue to his memory is located near Wimbledon’s Gate 4 entrance and people enjoy having their picture taken with “Fred.” Amusing here is the little sign in lower left corner.