After missing the event last year, Milos Raonic got his Italian Open campaign underway on Monday, although it was not as easy as his last appearance in Rome when he reached the semifinals. The Canada needed three sets to battle past home-hope Marco Cecchinato, eventually emerging victorious 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
Raonic hangs on for opening set
The match got off to a fairly routine start, with both men holding their serve with ease. It was actually the home favourite Cecchinato who got the first opportunity against the big Raonic serve, going ahead 15-40 in the Canadian’s second service game. But Raonic had the answers, pounding a big serve to save the first, and following it up with a beautiful backhand half-volley drop shot to save the second. He went on to hold.
The world number ten immediate made Cecchinato pay for the missed opportunity in the following game, taking his own 15-40 lead and converted the first with a crosscourt backhand passing shot winner. The rest of the set went with serve until Raonic served for the set when Cecchinato made one final push to salvage the set. He raced ahead 0-40, but again Raonic was up to the challenge, saving two of the break points with unreturned serves and drawing an error on the other to bring it back to deuce. He would convert his second set point to claim the opener.
Cecchinato solves Raonic serve to force decider
The Italian turned the tables on Raonic immediately, reaching break point in the Canadian’s first service game and converting with a backhand passing shot winner. He followed that up with a hold to love for a 3-0 lead. Raonic finally got on the board the following game but had a lot of catching up to do. The set went with serve until Cecchinato served for it at 5-3.
The pressure seemed to get to him as Raonic raced ahead 0-40 and converted the third break point to reclaim the break. However, the Italian was not disheartened and grabbed double set point on the Raonic serve in the next game. The world number ten saved the first with a smash but dumped a forehand into the net on the second to give Cecchinato the break and force a deciding set.
Lone break enough to send Raonic into round two
After the pair traded holds to start the decider, Cecchinato let a lead slip away in the third game, being forced to battle through a deuce before holding. Raonic kept pressing and brought up a pair of break point in the fifth game. But the Italian was up to the task, saving both as well as another at 40-AD to hold for 3-2. Raonic kept pressing, and was rewarded with two more break points in Cecchinato’s next service game, and this time, the Italian drove a backhand long to give the Canadian a break lead. He quickly held to move to within a game of victory.
Cecchinato held to force Raonic to serve for it and put heavy pressure on the Canadian by racing ahead 0-40. Raonic saved the first with a forehand winner, drew an error on the second, and a forehand volley winner on the third to force the game back to deuce. He capped off the run of five straight points to seal the match with a smash winner.
By the numbers
Raonic’s serve was not as effective it usually is, as he only hit five errors to four double faults. He faced 11 break points, although he saved nine of them. He was narrowly out-chanced in the break point department, holding nine break points, although he converted three to Cecchinato’s two. The pair had similar service numbers, with Raonic winning 75 percent of his first serve point and 63 percent of his second serves, while Cecchinato won 70 percent of his first serves and 53 percent of his seconds.
Raonic has an extremely difficult draw in Rome, and it will ramp up a notch in the second round when he faces volatile Australian Nick Kyrgios in the second round.