It was sort of a casual throw-away line, but when Milos Raonic was asked after his second-round on Thursday if his athleticism was under-rated, he answered, “I will let you be the judge – I’ve got a good shoulder.”
That shoulder was in fine working order on Saturday on No. 1 Court at Wimbledon when he defeated No. 25 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6(3), 6-4, 7-5. He put on a serving clinic – making 70 per cent of first serves, and winning 84 percent of first serve points and 81 per cent of second-serve points. More importantly – he faced zero break points during the two hour and 22-minute match.
“When it comes to grass,” Raonic said right off the court, “that was a pretty clean match. (On serve) I was hitting my spots, I was mixing it up well, hitting it when I went for it and hitting it when I served-and-volleyed.”
Ramos-Vinolas, known more as clay court player, hung tough in the first set, saving a break point to level at 2-2 and eventually getting it to a tiebreak.
Raonic had looked a little shaky on volleys during the set – “maybe looking up a little bit to see which way he was going instead of just focusing on the shot” – but he hit two beauty forehand volley winners in the tiebreak. The first gave him the mini-break to 2-0 and the second stretched his lead to 3-1.
An ace (one of 21 during the match) made it a 4-1 lead and the tournament’s seventh seed was in control. A break to 15 in the opening game of the second set and Raonic had the separation he needed to pull away for good.
“I did a lot of things well today,” he said, “Maybe at the beginning I wasn’t controlling the situation enough but as the match went on I was dictating more.”
Comparing Saturday to his two previous wins over Jan-Lennard Struff and Mikhail Youzhny, he said, “what I’m doing now a bit better is I’m sharp from the first point on my service games, but also in my return games. I think I’m there, I’m present. I’m sticking around a bit more and putting in a more consistent display. That just gives me more confidence and helps me execute my shots better.”
Earlier this year, Raonic injured his right hamstring and had to pull out of the final of the Delray Beach ATP 250 event in early March. He skipped Indian Wells, played one match in Miami before withdrawing and then took the cautious route of not playing from late March until early May in Istanbul to heal the hamstring properly. He’s now playing his seventh tournament without apparent fitness issues.
Speaking about his comeback from the hamstring problem, he said, “that’s part of my sort of regimen change. Before I was spending quite a bit more time in the gym than I was on court. Now it’s sort of the other way around. The philosophy is, if you need some cardio, go out, play, run a bit more on the court. If you need to get strength, go to the weight room.
“Before, I was doing a lot of stuff to sort of mimic tennis practice in the gym. Now I just try to be a bit more specific on court.”
The fact that Raonic reached the Wimbledon final a year ago (losing to Andy Murray) leads reporters to asking him what he has learned from the experience. “I think all the clichés prove true,” he answered on Saturday, “taking it one match at a time, staying very much in the moment, not getting too far ahead of yourself.”
One man who knows about the process of winning Grand Slams is Mats Wilander. He won seven.
Never one to pull punches with his opinions, the 52-year-old Swede had some thoughts about Milos Raonic 2017 at Wimbledon. “He didn’t play well against Youzhny, that’s for sure,” Wilander said.
“But Milos is the kind of player who would improve with each round. I think he’s probably a bit fresher mentally this year than last year because last year there was more hype around him – and he obviously delivered because he nearly won it all.
“This year is probably not about winning but about the match that he’s playing which I think is a better approach and which is the approach you have to have to win Grand Slams. Not to think ‘I’ve got to win a Grand Slam.’ You’ve just got to play the guy because every day is so different. I think that’s a little bit easier to do when you come in a little bit under-prepared in terms of matches but that’s what you’re focusing on. I think he’s in a really good place in that way.”
Wilander was on board with the idea of coach Mark Knowles working with Raonic since the beginning of the grass-court season four weeks ago. “Any time you get a new coach in your corner, it’s always a good thing,” he said. “It’s so fresh that it will only be positive – at least through Wimbledon. That’s huge.”
Raonic has spoken about how Knowles is trying to make him more aware of how his opponents feel playing against him. Wilander certainly thinks along those same lines as well. “Milos Raonic is the player that nobody wants to play,” said Wilander, who won three Australian Opens, three French Opens and one US Open but never got past the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. “As long as he knows that – he should make them hate playing him even more. You have to be a nightmare and he can be a nightmare if he doesn’t play from the baseline too much.
“Once he lets the other guy play, it’s not a nightmare because he’s hitting shot after shot after shot. And then he finds a rhythm and doesn’t mind having a game when Milos hits three aces. To me he has to be confident and not to look for rhythm for himself because once he does the other guy gets rhythm.”
Raonic somewhat contradicted that notion when he said on Saturday, “I think I’ve always, over the last few years, been there from the baseline aspect. It’s not like I’m rushing to the net because I can’t take care of my own from the back. I think it does send a positive message across the net when I can be there – be winning a good amount of those important (baseline) points.”
In Monday’s round-of-16 he will be trying to do some of that against Sascha Zverev, the 20-year-old who has made a major move up the rankings in 2017 – No. 24 to No. 12. The rangy 6-foot-6 German defeated Raonic 7-6(6), 6-1 in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open in Rome in May – on the way to winning his first Masters 1000 title.
Raonic, 6-foot-5, was asked if he lost any advantage playing a player taller than himself. “Not really,” he replied. “I think I have one of the best serves even though I might not be the tallest guy out there.”
More to the point, he said about facing Zverev again, “I’d like the opportunity. He’s made good strides with his game over the past few years, especially over the past 16 months. I would definitely like to play him on grass.”
Raonic, 26, now has a 19-6 record at Wimbledon while Zverev is 6-2.
One thing is almost certain about the match – Raonic will leave the court after two sets to change his shoes. “You have the little pimples on the bottom of the shoes,” he explained about why he does it, “new shoes probably have fresher pimples.”
While he hasn’t gone more than four sets in any of his matches so far, it appears if he did there would be another shoe change. “I would do the same thing,” he said.
So could he go through three pairs if he was involved in a five-set match? He smiled and said, “quite possibly.”
NESTOR OUT IN DOUBLES
Daniel Nestor’s 23rd Wimbledon came to an end in men’s doubles on Friday when he and partner Fabrice Martin of France, the 13th seeds, were beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round by unseeded Hugo Nys of France and Antonio Sancic of Croatia.
Post-match, Nestor was a downcast individual. “Mentally it was pretty disappointing, I didn’t give a proper effort,” he said. “I focused too much on the negative. When you’re in a bad mood you focus on the wrong things instead of solutions.”
He spoke about another situation that probably contributed to his state of mind, “I haven’t been sleeping that well,” he said, “which is normal at a Grand Slam when you get older.”
Regarding the inevitable subject of how much longer he will play, he said, “I still enjoy it and I enjoy competing and I still think I’m playing at a pretty good level. We’ll see how the summer goes because I’m losing a lot of points and obviously I have to play a bit better or otherwise I’ll have some decisions to make.”
About his upcoming events and partners, he said, “Max (Mirnyi) in Umag and Hamburg in the next couple of weeks, (Aisam Ul-Haq) Qureshi in Washington and Vasek (Pospisil) in Montreal. Then I don’t know about Cincinnati and the US Open.”
Regarding the ATP ranking points he has to defend in the coming weeks, he noted about his 2016 results, “I made the finals of Hamburg last year and I won Washington and the semis of Montreal and Cincy.”
That comes to 1,520 points, which is almost half of his current total of 3,090 that make up his current No. 20 ranking. Absolute worst case scenario and negligible results at all those events and he could fall as low as No. 50.
POSPISIL LOSES IN DOUBLES
Vasek Pospisil’s 2017 Wimbledon came to a close on Friday when he and Julien Benneteau of France were beaten 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-4 by sixth-seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcel Granollers of Spain.
“It was a tricky match and Julien and I hadn’t played any matches leading up to this event,” Pospisil said. “I hadn’t played a doubles match in four or five months. It was always going to be tricky – especially a tough second-round. We didn’t play our best, which you’re going to have to do to beat good teams. They served a little better than we did and just played the big points a little better today.”
“I’m going to take four days off,” added Pospisil, who had kinesio tape on his right knee for an issue that has been around for a few weeks, “and then start training extremely hard, doing fitness and getting ready for Atlanta, Washington and Montreal (Rogers Cup) – just the summer hard-court swing that I always enjoy.”
There’s also his brother’s wedding on July 22nd, just before the Atlanta ATP 250 event. “I’m very excited for that,” he said. He and older brother Tom will both be ‘best men’ at middle brother Petr’s wedding.
DABROWSKI THROUGH IN MIXED
Gabriela Dabrowski and Rohan Bopanna, the reigning French Open mixed doubles champions, advanced to round three of the Wimbledon mixed competition with a 7-6(2), 7-5 victory over Raluca Olaru of Romania and Fabrice Martin of France on Saturday.
For the No. 10 seeds it marked a sixth consecutive win dating back to their Roland Garros success last month.
Dabrowski, No. 23 in the WTA doubles rankings and Bopanna, No. 21 in the ATP doubles, will next face the winner of a match between No. 8 seeds Chan Hao-Ching of Taipei / Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Croatians Ana Konjuh / Nikola Mektic.
PARTY LIKE IT’S CANADA’S 150th (No. 4)
During the Rogers Cup sesquicentennial party for Canadians in London last Saturday, the players attending got up and made brief speeches. Above is doubles specialist Adil Shamasdin, a psychology graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. A proud Canadian from Pickering, Ont., Shamasdin’s family roots go back to Kenya.
LONDON POST CARD
Wimbledon Common is an extensive, mostly barren area located just outside Wimbledon Village, which is a 15-minute walk up Church Road from the All England Club. Protected by an 1871 law, it totals 460 hectares and is the largest expanse of ‘healthland’ in all of London.
NOTE: No blog on Sunday, back for the Raonic – Zverev match on Monday.