Wimbledon: Milos Raonic battles past Mikhail Youzhny

Sixth seed Milos Raonic was one point away from a two-sets-to-love deficit during his second-round clash with Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, but instead, the Canadian rallied to book his place in the third round of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships with a hard-fought four-set victory. The Russian veteran gave the 2016 runner-up all he could handle through the first two sets, but the older Youzhny could not keep up with Raonic, cracking late as the Canadian advanced with a 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Youzhny starts quickly

The 2016 runner-up was slow off the mark, while Youzhny came out swinging. A big winner from the Russian followed by three straight errors from Raonic in the second game gave Youzhny a break to love and an immediate 2-0 lead. The Canadian slowly began to find his rhythm after falling behind and his opening came in the seventh game. It was Youzhny’s turn to throw in some errors, giving Raonic double break point. But the Canadian threw both away with tentative errors. Another break point would come and go before the Russian held to stretch the lead to 5-2.

Mikhail Youzhny strikes a forehand. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Mikhail Youzhny strikes a forehand. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Raonic would hold easily in the following game without needing to play a rally, striking three aces, a double fault and a service winner, putting the pressure on his opponent to serve out the opening set. Youzhny blew a 30-0 lead under some heavy pressure from the Canadian, but his big shots came back to rescue, as the Russian struck an ace before drawing an error to wrap up the opening set 6-3 after only 32 minutes.

Raonic survives service battle

Serving to start the second set, Raonic opened proceedings with a second serve ace on his way to an easy hold. That would set the tone for the entire set, as the servers dominated from start to finish. For much of the set, the returners failed to get the ball back in play, let alone win rallies. Neither player got to more than 30 in a return game in the entire second set.

In the inevitable tiebreak, Raonic missed a forehand on the very first point to give the minibreak to Youzhny right off the bat. The Canadian quickly redeemed himself, drawing an error with a huge crosscourt forehand to put the breaker back on serve two points later. After seven straight points that went with serve, another deep Youzhny return drew a forehand error to claim a 5-4 lead. Raonic would net a forehand to give the Russian double set point, but the Canadian’s forehand redeemed itself as it saved the first with a wide shot that drew an error. Raonic saved the second with a big serve to level at 6-6.

Raonic hits a backhand on Thursday at Wimbledon. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Raonic hits a backhand on Thursday at Wimbledon. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

A 142 MPH ace gave the sixth seed his first set point, but he sent a backhand wide. At 7-7, the roles reversed as a deep return from Raonic drew an error to give the Canadian set point on his own serve and this time, his primary weapon got the job done as a service winner wrapped up the set for Raonic.

Early break enough for Raonic

The roles were completely reversed from the start of the opening set as the third got underway. Now it was Raonic who came out firing and Youzhny appeared to be struggling. The Canadian blasted to double break point, the first break points since midway through the opening set, and Youzhny handed the sixth seed his first break of the match with a double fault. Raonic would consolidate for the 2-0 lead with four aces.

The Canadian remained in full control of his serve after grabbing the break. While Youzhny would settle in himself and began holding with ease, the damage was already done. The lone break was all Raonic would need, as the Canadian rode his monstrous serve through the remainder of the set. Raonic would close out the 6-4 set with a hold to love, only needing 35 minutes to take a two-sets-to-one lead.

Late break sends Canadian through

The back-and-forth momentum shifts continued to start the fourth set, as it was once again Raonic’s turn to be on the back foot early in a set. The Canadian fell behind double break point in his opening service game, but saved the first with an ace before Youzhny netted a backhand on the second. The sixth seed would hold to get on the board at 1-1.

Raonic follows through on a forehand. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Raonic follows through on a forehand. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

After the pair cruised through their service games until 4-4, Raonic had a late opening when, after clawing a return game back to deuce, Youzhny sent a shot wide bring up break point. However, the Russian saved it with a big serve. Youzhny then returned the favour in the following game, bringing up a break/set point on the Canadian’s serve at 4-5. But a massive serve-and-forehand combination followed by back-to-back giant serves levelled the set at 5-5.

The sudden change of tone in the set kept up as errors from Youzhny put the Russian down 0-40 in the following game. Raonic did not let another opportunity slip away and Youzhny drove a backhand long to give the Canadian a chance to serve out the match. The 2016 runner-up made no mistake, converting his second match point with an ace.

By the numbers

Raonic’s monstrous serve was at its best on Thursday, as the Canadian fired 27 aces and won 89 percent of his first serve points (only losing eight points on his first serve in total). The sixth seed also blasted 58 winners, more than three times Youzhny’s total (17). That being said, the Canadian also committed 32 unforced errors to his opponent’s 19. Youzhny will be left to regret only converting one of four break points, despite saving four of six on his own serve.

In the third round, Raonic will take on Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who beat Raonic in their lone meeting at a major last year at the French Open.