Despite a knee injury limiting his clay court season thus far, Milos Raonic showed no signs of struggles in his second-round clash at the Mutua Madrid Open. The former world number three scored one of the biggest clay court wins of his career on Tuesday, battling past world number four Grigor Dimitrov in the three-set battle.
The odds were against the big-serving Canadian, who had only won one of their previous four meetings, playing on a surface where Dimitrov has historically been more successful. But Raonic came out firing, pouring the pressure on his third-seeded opponent early in the opening set. The match turned into a back-and-forth battle, but the Canadian came up big late in the first and third sets to claim a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Raonic’s masterclass pays off
The two biggest names from tennis’ so-called “lost generation” are known as two of the tour’s most effective servers and that was on display right from the start as 12 of the first 13 points of the match went to the server. It was the Canadian who broke the trend in the fifth game, racing ahead love-40 on his opponent’s serve. Dimitrov was up to the task, using some big hitting to save all three break points and keep the set on serve.
Failing to break did nothing to slow Raonic down, as the Canadian held his first three games to love and won his first 13 service points before Dimitrov even managed one on return when the Canadian missed a volley. On his way to 5-5, Raonic held to love four times and won 20 of 21 service points.
At 5-5, the world number 24 mounted another assault on his opponent’s serve. He took a 15-40 lead and, despite missing the first break point, punched a volley winner on the second to take a 6-5 lead. Looking to serve out the set, Raonic had his toughest service game of the match so far, losing a whopping two points before Dimitrov sent a return long on set point to give the opener to the Canadian.
Dimitrov strikes back
The second set looked to be following the same trend as the first, as the pair exchanged love holds to open the second. After only dropping three points in seven service games so far in the match, Raonic seemingly out of the blue suffered a meltdown at 1-2. From 15-all, the Canadian lost three straight points on serve, matching his total points lost in the opening set, culminating in a missed volley at 15-40 to give Dimitrov a break.
The Bulgarian would have to battle to keep his nose in front, needing to survive a deuce in the next game to consolidate the break for a 4-1 lead. In his next service game, Dimitrov was forced to battle from 15-40 down but managed to save the break points and maintain his lead. Serving for the set, the world number four needed a deuce and two set points to level the match, finally claiming the set with a big swinging forehand volley.
Pressure finally pays off for Raonic
It looked like Dimitrov was finding his groove on his return early in the second set when he got to 30 in back-to-back games to start the third set. In the seventh game at 3-3, the Bulgarian had a look at a break point after Raonic netted a backhand, but was unable to convert.
Dimitrov would pay for that missed opportunity. In the very next game, he found himself down break point at 40-AD. Raonic failed to put his return in play, but a double fault from Dimitrov gave the Canadian a second look. This time, he seized control of the rally before ripping a forehand winner up the line to claim the late break and a 5-3 lead. Serving for the match, Raonic was able to overpower Dimitrov one last time to claim only his third top-ten win on clay and his first victory over the Bulgarian since 2011.
By the Numbers
Raonic’s aggressive game was on point as the Canadian struck 30 winners, including 16 off his mighty forehand. Despite a high winner count, Raonic’s big-hitting often leads to a lot of errors, but a big reason for the Canadian’s victory came from a high level of consistency that lead only to a mere 12 unforced errors.
As always, his serve was dominant, pounding a dozen aces, winning 68 percent of his second serve points, and limiting Dimitrov to a mere two break points, one of which he saved. Despite 20 winners, the Bulgarian was nowhere near as consistent, committing 19 unforced errors and five double faults. The third seed also only won 50 percent of his second serve points.
In the third round, Raonic will do battle with the man who threatens to replace him as the top dog in Canadian tennis. The most-successful Canadian men’s singles player in history will meet one of tennis’ top up-and-comers Denis Shapovalov in an all-Canadian battle of generations for a spot in the quarterfinals.