2016 runner-up Milos Raonic returned to the site of his greatest run at a major with a victory on Tuesday, as the sixth seed kicked off his 2017 Wimbledon Championships campaign with a straight-sets win over German Jan-Lennard Struff. After a shocking loss in his lone grass-court match of the season at the Queen’s Club, the Canadian was back to his big-serving best on the lawns of the All-England Club, pummeling his German opponent around the court and showing his poise in the key moments, advancing to round two after two hours and 16 minutes of powerhouse tennis.
Raonic wins service duel
Raonic came into the match with far less competitive play on grass under his belt than the previous season. But last year’s runner-up was quick to dispel any suggestion that he was off his game, as he pounded a pair of aces in the opening game of the match before holding two break points in his first return game, although Struff was able to overpower Raonic both times. The German would flip the script in the following game, holding a break point of his own, but could not convert. The next chance came for Raonic in the sixth game, but he missed a forehand.
Both men’s serving proved to be too much in the opening set, which required a tiebreak. Through the early stages of the breaker, the serves continued to dominate as neither man seemed able to touch the ball on their opponent’s turn. Finally, on the sixth point, Raonic teed off on a Struff second serve and drew an error for the minibreak. Two points later, the Canadian gave it right back by dumping a routine forehand into the net. But Raonic responded immediately with another big second serve return to give himself a pair of set points. He missed the first, but drew an error with a forehand approach shot on the second to win the tiebreak 7-5 and take the opening set.
Struff starts to struggle
The Canadian’s momentum carried over to start the second set, as Raonic swiftly raced ahead 0-40 in the opening game. Struff would save the first two break points, but an over-aggressive approach shot went long to give one of the tour’s best servers a break lead. In the following game, the German had a chance to break back, but missed his return. The miss seemed to take a toll on Struff as, in the following game, he double faulted at 0-30 to give Raonic another triple break point opportunity. On the following point, he overcooked a forehand to surrender the double break.
After Raonic held to love to stretch his lead to 4-0, Struff won the opening point of his next service game, snapping the Canadian’s 10-point run. The German would finally hold to get a game on the board. Despite finally winning a game, Struff had no answer for the sixth seed’s power, as Raonic would hold easily to move within a game of the set. After the German held to extend the set, the Canadian easily served out the second, wrapping it up with a textbook serve and volley.
Raonic holds off late comeback
The third set got off to an identical start as the previous one, with Raonic taking a 0-40 lead in the opening game and converting the third break point to take the early lead. The set continued to follow the same script as the previous one as, in the third game, Struff would double fault to give Raonic a break point, although this time the Canadian netted his return. The German would go on to hold.
Struff was not going away quietly and in the eighth game, a loose start to a service game from Raonic opened the door for the German to reach break point at 30-40. But as it often does, the Canadian’s serve came to the rescue, blasting an ace out wide to save it. A double fault followed to give Struff another break point, but again Raonic saved it with an ace. The German would get another shot after a brilliant backhand passing shot winner at deuce, but for the third straight time he failed to get his return back in play. Two games later, as the Canadian looked to serve out the match, Struff found himself up 0-30 and with a good look at a Raonic serve, only to net his return. Still, the German managed to battle to break point and this time managed to counter Raonic’s serve and volley with a low return that the Canadian punched long.
Both men would hold their final service games of the set, sending it to a tiebreak. It would not take long for Raonic to take an early advantage, as Struff netted a backhand to give the Canadian a 3-1 lead. Not long after, however, Raonic would put a volley wide to let Struff back into the breaker. Undeterred, the Canadian returned the favour when he caught Struff unprepared at the net, ripping a backhand passing shot winner to reclaim the minibreak lead and a chance to serve out the match at 5-4. A perfect backhand winner up the line gave the sixth seed a pair of match points, and he wrapped up the match with another big serve at the first time of asking.
By the numbers
Raonic’s aggression was on full display in his second grass-court match of the year, as the Canadian pounded 55 winners, including 20 aces, while also firing 30 unforced errors. Struff couldn’t quite match his opponent’s power, only managing 32 winners, although he also only committed 21 unforced errors. Raonic only surrendered one break of serve in the match, saving the other five break points he faced. He only converted three of his 13 break points.
Raonic will take on Mikhail Youzhny in the second round.