There will be no elite eight in Milos Raonic’s immediate future, not the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters nor the exclusive ATP World Tour Finals next week in London. Tomas Berdych dashed both of those hopes with a 7-6 (13), 6-4 victory that ended the Canadian’s most consistent and successful season.
Raonic began his ascent into the sporting consciousness with a run to the round of 16 at the 2011 Australian Open, a tournament that saw a number of young players seemingly announce themselves as tennis’ next generation (including Bernard Tomic, Ricardas Berankis, and Alexandr Dolgopolov). But it hardly heralded a revolution, as Raonic has slowly risen while his aspiring colleagues fell off his pace. Still, this match illustrated the next step Raonic will have to take if he’s going to puncture the ceiling that separates the elite from the very, very good.
That’s not to say Berdych had this contest under control all the way. He didn’t earn a break point against Raonic’s cannon serve in the first set, and fought off three set points in a tiebreaker that lasted 20 minutes. The extra session showed off both players’ strengths; the serve, primarily: Berdych needed six set points to put away Raonic, who erased the Czech’s chances with timely aces—on the second, third, and fourth set points he faced.
The overtime featured 28 points in all, and while there were mistakes made from both men, the quality power each demonstrates on serve and along the ground came to the forefront—until the 12-12 point. There, Berdych double-faulted, giving Raonic what would be his final set point. Visibly feeling the pressure, Raonic put a tight forehand into net to make it 13-13, and then a lead was finally held. Berdych’s subsequent, nimble return—hit with a short and powerful backswing, just like his groundstrokes—pinned Raonic deep to his weaker backhand side. The point went Berdych’s way, and on his sixth set point, he struck a wide serve to open up the court for a comfortable forehand winner. A slight fist pump, and nothing more, was his celebration.
Raonic’s reaction to the marathon outcome was just as subdued, and his form didn’t dip a great deal in the second set. However, he surrendered his first break points of the match shortly after the set began. The world No. 7 displayed his consistency on the ground, while sacrificing none of his force, in moving Raonic around and dictating the majority of the rallies. Berdych plied his trade closer inside the court than his opponent and made his 2-0 lead stand up when he didn’t offer Ranoic a break point in the second set.
For a pair of star servers, this was an entertaining match, one that fans in Bercy got a closer-than-expected look at. With a loaded Court Central slate, this marquee offering was forced onto Court 1, and it’s a probably a good thing that netting is installed behind its baselines. Not for television viewers, whose view is slightly obstructed, but for those in attendance. At this year’s U.S. Open, those sitting in Grandstand’s coveted baseline seats had to be on high alert when ace-machine John Isner was playing on the intimate show court.
Berdych moves on to face David Ferrer on Central tomorrow. As for Raonic, this year should be considered a sizable step forward in his young career. He never left the Top 20 and climbed as high as No. 10, winning two titles and reaching a Masters final along the way. As for the Slams, he never went beyond the fourth round, but there was progress made there, too. Raonic’s ground game was exposed by Andy Murray in the fourth round of Flushing Meadows last year; this year, he nearly made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. One has to think that if Raonic’s focus remains, he’ll reach the elite eight at a major for the first time in 2014.