Australian Open: Federer d. Raonic

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MELBOURNE—We’ve come a long way in a week. When the Australian Open draws were made 10 days ago, the consensus was that Roger Federer would have to face a murderer’s row of talent just to reach the quarterfinals. First Davydenko, then Tomic, then Raonic: They all posed dangers. Tonight Federer finished off the last of them, Raonic, by the less-than-dangerous score of 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2. As the match was fizzling to its conclusion in the third set, TV commentators in Australia began to wonder if Federer could have used a sterner test sometime during the opening week. So much for murderer’s row.

Two stats told most of the story of this one. Federer won 90 percent of points when he made his first serve, and 75 percent of points on his second serve. In other words, Federer served well, but Raonic also struggled mightily with his return. Raonic didn’t earn a break point in the match; in Federer's six service games in the second set, he held at love four times. Getting to 30-30 felt like a moral victory for Milos.

The second statistic of note was Federer’s unforced errors: 12 for the entire match. The two players hit roughly the same number of winners (37 for Raonic; 34 for Federer) and forced errors (26 for Raonic; 24 for Federer). But Raonic committed 41 errors, 29 more than Federer. 

That said, Raonic’s serve forced Federer to have to win the crucial points to take the first two sets. Or, perhaps more accurately, it forced Raonic to have to lose them. Serving at 4-5 in the first set and 30-30, Raonic double-faulted. On the next point—set point, for Federer—Raonic followed a forehand into the net and buried a backhand volley into it. 

The second set did go all the way to a tiebreaker, and Raonic was able to keep the breaker close by cracking aces with his first three serves. On the fourth, though, Federer put the ball back in play, Raonic followed a weak approach to the net, and Federer passed him easily. He had the mini-break, and, for all intents and purposes, the match. Raonic sealed his own fate by making four unforced errors to drop serve in the first game of the third set. At that stage, Federer had made just four unforced errors in the entire match.

You can’t judge a young(ish) player’s future by one match, and Raonic said later that he had an inflamed metatarsal in his left foot and had considered not playing. But this wasn’t a good night for the 22-year-old Raonic. Overeager on many ground strokes, he stood upright too quickly as he swung and sent makeable shots sailing over baseline and sideline. The return was the biggest problem, but the forehand wasn’t far behind. Raonic made 24 unforced errors on that side alone. 

As for Federer, he negotiated the first week with surprising ease. He also beat two up-and-comers at their own games. Federer sent the shotmaker, Tomic, packing with his superior all-around repertoire; in the next round he outserved the server, Raonic. Now we’ll see if Federer, a Parisian favorite, can out-French the No. 1 Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. 

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