Cincinnati: Federer d. Raonic
Even as Milos Raonic’s ranking rises, he gets further from beating Roger Federer. The first three times the two men played, Raonic won a set before falling in three tight ones. The last three times they’ve played, at the 2013 Australian Open, at Wimbledon last month, and in Cincinnati on Saturday night, Federer dismantled him in straights. This 6-2, 6-3 loss was the most lopsided and excitement-free of all.
Which is moderately surprising, because Raonic came in saying that he had learned a lot from his blowout Wimbledon loss, and that he was mad about it. He couldn’t find a way to channel that anger, though; Raonic appeared tense, rather than focused, to start, and he was down 3-0 after 12 minutes. Worse, he didn’t have the one shot he needed, his serve. He made just 44 percent of his first deliveries; that’s not a number that’s going to get the man known as The Missile many wins over anyone in the Top 10, let alone Federer. Even when Raonic did hit the first one in, his winning percentage on those points was 20 points lower than its norm.
Unable to bail himself out with his serve, Raonic’s weaknesses were quickly exposed. When Federer approached to his backhand, Raonic struggled to make clean contact on his passing shots. When Federer served into the ad court, he used the bouncy courts to send his kick high and wide, and left Raonic well out of position for his next forehand; Federer didn’t lose a point on his first serve in the opening set. When Raonic came to the net, Federer put his passes at his feet—that’s all that was necessary.
Spotted an early lead, Federer cruised through the first set unimpeded. He returned well throughout, and made just eight unforced errors. As he has for much of the summer hard-court season, he came forward when he could, and his volleying was as crisp as it has been this year—he finished 14 of 16 at net and rushed the big man into mistakes. Raonic played well enough in the second set to earn a break point, which Federer wiped away with a forehand, and to reach 30-30 on Federer’s serve on a couple of other occasions.
But that will have to qualify as success for Raonic on this night, and at this tournament. Federer is the one moving on; he'll go for his sixth Cincy title against David Ferrer in the final. Will Federer’s late finish give the Little Beast a chance for his first win over him in 16 tries? I’m not willing to go that far.