Despite some scary moments in the second set, 2014 Citi Open champion Milos Raonic made a winning return to Washington on Tuesday, edging Nicolas Mahut in a pair of tiebreaks. The Canadian started well in his first match in the American capital since claiming the 2014 title, but his serve abandoned him midway through the second set. Still, the powerful Canadian hung on, keeping his nerve deep in the tiebreaks and saving a few set points in the second set on his way to a straight-sets victory.
Tight set goes to Raonic
As always, the Canadian came out flying on his serve, winning his first six service points. But the rust quickly came out when a series of errors gave Mahut a pair of break points in the fifth game. However, Raonic’s raw power came to the rescue, as he used his big groundstrokes to save the first, and cranked an unreturnable serve on the second, reeling off four straight points to keep his nose ahead 3-2. Raonic would have his first opening in the eighth game, pushing the Frenchman to deuce, but Mahut’s net game kept the match level.
Those openings midway through the set would be the closest either man would come to a break. In the tiebreak, Mahut handed Raonic the early minibreak when he double-faulted to give the third seed a 2-1 lead. The Canadian quickly took advantage, claiming his next two service points, including an ace that narrowly caught the line, to stretch the lead to 4-1. Mahut would dump a forehand into the net on the next point to further dig himself into a hole. Raonic had the set on his racquet at 5-2 and made no mistake, only needing three shots (two serves and an overhead) to wrap up the tiebreak and the set.
Raonic hangs on in tiebreak
Mahut seemed to have spent all his energy in the opening set, as some sloppy play from the Frenchman saw him facing break points for the first time in the match in the opening game of the second set. However, his aggressive serve-and-volley attack managed to keep the Canadian at bay, saving both break points before holding. Raonic showed no signs of slowing down in his first service game, blasting the ball nearly through Mahut on his way to a love hold.
The Canadian then turned his focus back to attacking his opponent’s serve and this time opened up a triple break point opportunity. Again, Mahut stayed calm, whipping out some beautiful shot-making to save all three with a beautiful drop shot followed by back-to-back passing shot winners. This time, the Frenchman failed to neutralise the threat, double-faulting to give Raonic a fourth break point of the game. At the fourth time of asking, a big forehand drew Mahut into an error as he sent his shot long to claim the break at 2-1.
Up a break, Raonic seemed to be cruising to victory. That was until the eighth game when everything fell apart. Serving up 4-3, 40-30, the Canadian struck three consecutive double faults to gift the break back to Mahut, levelling the set at 4-4. The sloppy play for Raonic continued as, while serving to stay in the set at 4-5, he double faulted again before netting a smash to give the Frenchman set point. Finally, the serve became a weapon again in time to save the set point on his way to a hold. Raonic had a chance to reclaim control in of the set at 5-5, holding a pair of break points, but put the ball into the net on both occasions.
Once again, the set required a tiebreak. At 2-2, a short return from the Canadian into the feet of Mahut drew a half-volley into the net, giving Raonic the minibreak. Back-to-back aces stretched the lead to 5-2. Mahut kept the set going by winning both of his service points, putting the pressure on the Canadian to serve out the match. A forehand winner gave him a pair of match points, but a net cord shot that narrowly died on Raonic’s side of the net took away the first before the Frenchman saved the second with an ace. Mahut would then hold a set point, only for Raonic to save it with a big serve of his own. The Frenchman was forced to save another match point at 8-8 before missing his serve-and-volley wide to give the third seed another match point on his own serve. This time, a big second serve drew a return long as the Canadian avoided a massive meltdown by taking the breaker 10-8.
By the numbers
Raonic finished the match with an impressive 26 aces, although he also committed 9 double faults, with seven of them coming in the back half of the second set. He won 87 percent of his first serve points and still managed 65 percent of his seconds. Mahut was solid on serve, winning 79 percent of his first serve points, but only won 49 percent of his second serves. One bright late for the Frenchman was his ability to save break points, denying Raonic nine of ten times.
Raonic awaits the winner between Marcos Baghdatis and Ryan Harrison, the man who ousted him at last year’s US Open, in the third round.