Shanghai: Wawrinka d. Raonic

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If you like your tennis matches no-nonsense, you might have liked Stanislas Wawrinka’s 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over Milos Raonic in the round of 16 in Shanghai today. Each man went about his business with blank-faced dispatch. The points were short, the games were quick—there were just two break points in total—and the whole thing was done and dusted in a tidy 80 minutes.

Unfortunately, the fact that it was over in a hurry is about the only good thing you could say of this one. While Wawrinka and Raonic gave us no nonsense, they also gave us little excitement or drama. From the Stan side, this is rare; his heavy-hitting baseline style usually makes for bruisingly entertaining rallies. But from the Milos side, it’s not too surprising. The combination of the 6’5” Canadian’s strong serves and weak returns often reduce the sport to its bare minimum. That was the case, and then some, today.

Raonic’s matches also tend to be decided by just a handful of points, and that was also true in this one. The first set, in which neither player earned a break point, was decided by two shots in the tiebreaker. Up 3-2, Wawrinka hit a forehand pass winner; down 2-4, Raonic ran and stretched awkwardly for a drop shot and flipped it five feet wide. In the second set, at 3-3, Wawrinka finally found his way to two break points. On the second one, he moved back and pushed his backhand crosscourt, hoping for a Raonic miss. This is exactly what coaches tell you not to do on big points, but every so often it works. When Raonic eventually sailed a forehand long, Wawrinka had his break. The wail he let out when he got it let you know he was confident he would soon have the match as well.

Raonic’s excellent Asian run—title in Bangkok, final in Tokyo—comes to an end. For the most part today, he hit his forehand confidently and even slapped back some nice returns, but seemed to run out of gas at the key moments. He has improved this year, but a consistent, flexible, all-around game that can match up against the top players' is still in development. On that crucial point in the tiebreaker, the lanky, not-too-speedy Raonic couldn’t track down a drop shot, bend for it, and also keep it under control. With Andy Murray’s withdrawal from London, Raonic is effectively ninth in the eight-man race to London at the moment, but he could be pushed to 10th by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by the end of the week. Jo won today and will play Florian Mayer tomorrow.

The long-term news is better for Stan. With this win, he’ll move to sixth in the race (excluding Murray), five points ahead of his countryman Roger Federer. As for the short-term news, that’s not quite as promising. Wawrinka will face Rafael Nadal next in Shanghai. The two have played 10 matches and 22 sets. Rafa has won them all.

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