ATP Madrid: Milos Raonic's serve wears down Alexandr  Dolgopolov

It was not easy, but Milos Raonic battled past the tricky Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open courtesy of a strong serving performance. The big-serving Canadian defeated his Ukrainian opponent 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2 to reach the third round in Madrid and claim his second victory over Dolgopolov.

Late break lets Raonic steal opening set

It was Dolgopolov who got off to the quicker start, putting pressure on the Raonic serve in the early games of the opening set. In the third game, the Ukrainian had a pair of break points against his opponent’s serve, the first two break points Raonic had faced in the tournament. Big forehands off the Canadians racquet saved the break points and he went on to hold. At 3-3, Dolgopolov, pushed Raonic to deuce, but could not reach break point. He held another break point at 4-4, 40-AD, but a huge Raonic serve saved it.

Milos Raonic prepares to drive a forehand. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Milos Raonic prepares to drive a forehand. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

The Ukrainian had been the stronger of the two on serve for the majority of the first set, not giving his opponent very many chances to break. But despite having outplayed his opponent, he found himself in trouble serving to stay in the set at 4-5. A handful of errors gave Raonic his first two break points of the set, which were also set points at 15-40. Dolgopolov would shank a forehand on the first point to surrender the opening set 6-4.

Dolgopolov wins service battle in tiebreak

Despite having been the better player in the opening set, Dolgopolov found himself trailing in the match as the second set began. The Ukrainian did not appear to let the blow dampen his spirits, as he continued to dominate his service games in the second set, while applying pressure on the Raonic serve. He reached deuce in the opening game of the second set on the Canadian’s serve and held a break point, courtesy of a remarkable lob winner, but Raonic’s serve bailed him out.

Alexandr Dolgopolov hits a forehand. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Alexandr Dolgopolov hits a forehand. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

After the opening game, both players settled in on serve and there would not be another break point in the set. In the tiebreak, Raonic had a chance for a minibreak at 1-1, but dumped what should have been a winner into the net. Two points later, another shot into the net from the Canadian gave Dolgopolov the minibreak. The Ukrainian would not look back, winning five of the last six points in the breaker to take it 7-3 and force a deciding set.

Raonic serve sends him into round three

The world number ten wasted no time in putting the frustrations of the second set tiebreak behind him, going up double break point in the opening game of the third set, converting the second for the immediate break lead. Some strong serving allowed the Canadian to consolidate for an immediate 2-0 lead. The pair would exchange holds before Raonic broke for a second time to lead 4-1. This break seemed to be a death sentence for Dolgopolov, as he could barely return the Raonic serve anymore, let alone win enough points to break.

Raonic tosses up one of his big serves. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Raonic tosses up one of his big serves. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

In the entire final set, Dolgopolov only returned three of his opponents serves out of 18, winning two of those points. Raonic held for 5-1 with four straight unreturned serves. Serving to stay in the match, the Ukrainian found himself down match point at 30-40, but this time it was Raonic’s turn to miss a return. He was only delaying the inevitable, as Raonic would pound out four more unreturnable serves to close out the victory in just over two hours.

By the numbers

It was a strong serving performance from Raonic, as usual. The Canadian hit 17 aces, won 80 percent of his first serve points and saved all four break points he faced. He still has yet to be broken in the tournament. Dolgopolov was statistically the stronger server through the first two sets, but only won 50% of his service points in the final set, which dragged his numbers well below those of Raonic. He was broken three times out of six opportunities.

The Ukrainian was statistically the better player in the rallies too, hitting 34 winners to Raonic’s 24, while also hitting fewer unforced errors, 25 to 31. But he could not win the key points and imploded in the final set.

Raonic will now have the day to recover as he awaits the winner between seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the third round.