It will be a battle between big serving and top-class returning when Canada’s Milos Raonic, seeded sixth, takes on home favourite and second seed Andy Murray in the gentlemen’s singles final at Wimbledon on Sunday.
The towering Canadian, at 6’5”, has already thrown down 137 aces as well as the fastest serve of the tournament at 231 kmph, en route to his first Grand Slam final. And he didn’t get there easily, either.
Raonic came back from two sets to one down to defeat Roger Federer in the semifinals, his first win over the seven-time Wimbledon champion at a major. In the quarterfinal, he defeated American Sam Querrey, who knocked out defending champion Novak Djokovic in the third round. And in the fourth round, Raonic recovered from a two-set deficit for the first time in his career to defeat Belgium’s David Goffin.
Raonic has recorded a healthy 68% of first serves over six rounds thus far, winning a solid 83.2% of those points.
Raonic’s serve is speedy and scary, to be sure - British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith called it “ginormous” - but it is also much more than that. One reason it’s so effective is because of his ability to alter velocity and placement.
“Obviously,” said Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, “Milos has got a fantastic serve.”
But the man he’ll face on the other side of the net is no slouch when it comes to dismantling tall big servers. Murray has won on average 45% of points when returning, thus far at The Championships.
Murray - a two-time major champion, most famously becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years when he beat Djokovic in the final three years ago -- has won his past five matches against Raonic. Just three weeks ago, Murray won their meeting in the final of the Queen’s Club grass-court tournament.
The Queen’s club final was the only time these two have played on grass and could prove the most crucial precursor to Sunday’s Championship match. Murray dropped the first set, then trailed 3-0 in the second, before beginning the turnaround with a return winner.
That match gave the Scot a useful reference point for just how dangerous the Canadian can be on grass.
“It helps to have played a match against him on the grass and see some of the things he’s doing on this surface a little bit differently,” said Murray of the Queen’s clash.
It was Murray’s returning that swung things in his favour in that match as well.
“The thing that stands out for me was the return winner I hit on the break point at 3-1 to get back into the match. That was the turning point really. He hadn’t lost serve the whole week. Came up with that return, the match changed from there,” added Murray ahead of the final.
Raonic, for his part, knows that sticking to his guns is his best shot at winning against the wily Scot, who loves getting into long rallies and cat-and-mouse exchanges of touch and feel. The Canadian’s last win over Murray was at Indian Wells two years ago.
“(Murray) does a lot of things well. I think the biggest challenge for me, which I felt was the thing I want to happen the least, or repeat itself the least from Queen’s, is I got sucked into his game. I didn’t play on my terms. That’s going to be the most important thing for me,” Raonic said.
Play on his own terms Raonic certainly has done so far. Raonic has gotten three-time Wimbledon winner and the original bad boy of tennis, John McEnroe, on board as a coaching consultant for this year’s Championships.McEnroe’s presence compliments that of former No 1 and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya, Raonic’s other coach.
McEnroe’s influence has shown in Raonic’s increased attacking style - the Canadian has won 115 of 152 serve-and-volley points. He’s also keen to come to the net more often than he did against Federer.
“I hesitated a few times,” he said. “I think only later I really started letting go and moving forward like I should have. It’s definitely something that I will incorporate more, further on.”
Lendl vs McEnroe
The last time McEnroe and Ivan Lendl faced off at Wimbledon was in the semi-final in 1983, with McEnroe going on to win the title.
33 years later, Lendl and McEnroe return to the All England Club, this time as coaches of Murray and Raonic, respectively.
This is Lendl’s second stint as Murray’s coach, having rejoined his team last month. And it’s not hard to see why Murray likes having the stoic Czech around to oversee things. Murray’s most productive spell was with Lendl, winning the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013, as well as the men’s singles gold at the 2012 London Olympics. Lendl brings a sense of calm to the easily-volatile Murray.
“He’s not on top of you all of the time but when it’s time to work, he is there and he works really hard. I trust him as a person. He’s very solid. He will certainly never lie to you or bullshit you. And you don’t always find that. It’s not always that easy to find somebody like that,” Murray was quoted as saying in The Guardian .
Murray appears to have found a sense of calm in his coaching arrangement not seen in a while. Such has been the effect of Djokovic and Federer on his career, that this is the first time, in his 11th Grand Slam final, that he will not face either of the two across the net.
Murray, whose returning is perhaps second only to Djokovic, has his job well cut out - to break down arguably the best serve in the business to take home a second Wimbledon title.