In Paris, Medvedev blends dominance with suspense in win over Raonic

In Paris, Medvedev blends dominance with suspense in win over Raonic

The Russian was very aware of what he needed to do to diffuse the Canadian—and he did this rapidly.

Daniil Medvedev’s 6-4, 7-6 win today over Milos Raonic in the semis of the Rolex Paris Masters blended extensive dominance with traces of suspense.  

This was a vivid style contrast, at the most simple level a conflict between Medvedev’s movement and Raonic’s firepower. But as this match revealed repeatedly, those assets were not held equally. Having won both their previous matches, Medvedev was very aware of what he needed to do to diffuse Raonic—and he did this rapidly. With Raonic serving at 2-all in the first set, Medvedev flung back enough Raonic serves to earn a love-40 lead. Though Raonic fought off the first break point with an ace down the T, at 15-40 the Canadian flagged an inside-out forehand wide.  

With a break in hand, Medvedev applied pressure intelligently. In the first set he got in 71 percent of his first serves, moving Raonic around the court like a yo-yo with a precise, airtight mix of deep groundstrokes.

Herein, the Raonic dilemma: His terrific serve and big forehand have long generated comparisons to Raonic’s hero, Pete Sampras. Alas, Raonic lacks Sampras’ panther-like movement and that often proves costly. Today, for example, Raonic adroitly carved many a short slice backhand crosscourt to the Medvedev backhand in hopes of generating a reply with less pace than usual. Mission accomplished, but while a Sampras or Roger Federer would swiftly step to his left and lacerate a forehand inside-in or inside-out, Raonic is rarely able to do this with the electricity we associate with those two. And when he faces an opponent as mobile, versatile and steady as Medvedev, Raonic summons up the old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, you see the solution to every problem as nail. It’s not easy to find the soft spot in such a hard wall. 

Meanwhile, Medvedev showcased his Swiss army knife. Serving for the first set at 5-4, Medvedev dug out several short slice backhands—and then, mid-rally, sliced a two-hander of his own, down-the-line to Raonic’s forehand. If hardly a shot you’d see swooned over at a USPTA conference, the beauty rested in its effectiveness, eliciting a Raonic error. Two points later, at 15-30, Medvedev struck a superb kick serve that opened up the court for his pet shot, a backhand down-the-line that proved untouchable. On set point at 40-30, Medvedev surprised the world, coming in on his serve and clipping a forehand volley winner. In the first set, Medvedev lost only four points on his serve.

If the downside of Raonic is his movement, the upside is his relentless poise. In the manner of other big servers such as John Isner and even the more diversified Sampras, Raonic knows his success is built on thin margins. Let the Medvedevs of this world accumulate victories one toothpick at a time. Raonic plays for the big moment. He will serve with supreme proficiency (second behind Isner according to the ATP) and, in one game, slash just enough big shots—a bold forehand, crisp volley, surprise of a backhand—and then grab the set. Call it gunslinger tennis.

In the second set, Medvedev served at 3-4, 30-30. Per the plot, Sheriff Milos laced a deep backhand return to earn his first break point of the match. But Medvedev countered with an ace down the T. Twice more the Canadian reached break point, but was unable to convert. By this stage, in all of his matches versus Medvedev, Raonic had gone zero for eleven on break points.

 

From there on, a few strands unraveled. Raonic served at 5-all, 40-15 and was broken. Medvedev sought to close out the match, but he too dropped his serve. On the first point of the tiebreaker, Medvedev captured the mini-break with a backhand let cord winner and soon went ahead 4-0, aided by Raonic’s 17th forehand error. Fancy that, just when we like to think pros possess transcendent skills, they play a series of points as random as recreational players do in USTA league matches. The big lead was just enough for Medvedev to close out the match with a tidy volley and overhead.  

“In some key moments, he found a way to be a bit more the aggressor. He was dictating a bit more,” said Raonic. “I was trying to change the pace up. But maybe I started to find the rhythm of that a little bit too late.”

In tomorrow’s final, Medvedev will play Alexander Zverev—the Russian is 1-5 against the German.

“It was shaky here and there, but I am really happy to be through to the final,” said Medvedev.

This is the first time he’s gotten that far in 2020—quite a contrast to 2019, when Medvedev got that far nine times. As Medvedev has seen this year, life in tennis is different when you go from being the hunter to the hunted.