Milos Raonic has proven time and again that when healthy, he is one of the ATP’s most dangerous players. After much was made about Raonic’s fitness level after Diego Schwartzman posted an unflattering, sweaty post-practice picture, the Canadian proved that he spent his time wisely during the five-month hiatus.
Raonic blitzed through Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday, 7-6 (5), 6-3. He peppered the Tsitsipas backhand with massive pace from his serve and forehand. His next and final opponent, Novak Djokovic, does not struggle against big servers, nor any other player for that matter. The Serbian has not been kind to Raonic in the past, and boasts a lopsided 10-0 head to head record.
Saturday presents the best chance for Raonic to earn his elusive first victory over the world No. 1. Djokovic repeatedly saw the trainer for a nagging neck injury in his 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory over Roberto Bautista Agut, and one can’t help but wonder if his attention will be more focused on the upcoming US Open, where he is a heavy favorite to capture his 18th Grand Slam title.
Raonic’s biggest strength, his serve, plays into Djokovic’s biggest strength, his return (which is widely considered the greatest of all time). Djokovic’s spectacular range and timing allows him to swiftly redirect Raonic’s serve deep toward the baseline. Raonic, not wanting to engage Djokovic from the baseline, goes for broke on his forehand wing, feeding into another of Djokovic’s strengths, his ability to turn defense into offense. Once Djokovic engages Raonic in a backhand-to-backhand exchange, it’s an uphill battle for the Canadian to regain control of the point while still playing within himself.
It’s imperative for Raonic to secure a break, as Djokovic is a perfect 10/10 in tiebreaks won in 2020, and has won 19 of his past 20 tiebreaks dating back to the 2019 Wimbledon final. His only tiebreak loss was to Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals. The word “clutch” does not do this statistic justice.
Given the rough matchup for Raonic and their one-sided history, it’s hard not to pencil Djokovic in for his second ATP Cincinnati crown.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic