Milos Raonic might want to suggest Wimbledon’s on-court crew invest in the protective battle-wear his countrymen throw on to hit the hockey rink after one of his 124mph first serves cracked a ball girl in the arm and forced her to leave the court on Tuesday.
The monster serve was a rare, albeit accidental, blip during the big-hitting 17th seed’s straightforward 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 dismissal of Argentine journeyman Carlos Berlocq in the first round.
Up two sets and a break at 4-2 in the third set, Raonic was cruising before the damaging delivery flew past Berlocq and struck the ball girl on the arm.
She was quickly replaced as she fought back tears, but it was enough to rattle the Canadian as he threw in just his fifth double fault for the match before steadying to hold serve.
“[I felt] bad about it. After that I lost a little bit of focus and also that amazing catch that one [ball boy] had. A lot of baseball teams could have picked him up to stop any home-runners,” Raonic said.
“Sort of tried to sign a ball and give it to that girl.”
Finishing the straight-sets result with 19 aces and a fastest serve of 134mph, there’s every chance it has happened before.
“Plenty of times. It’s sort of always those serves that are not on the line… more a serve that goes long and the receiver lets it go long and nobody is paying attention,” Raonic said.
At 6ft 5in and with one of the biggest serves in the men’s game, the 22-year-old has long been earmarked as a potential Wimbledon champion.
To date, though, Raonic has failed to fire on grass, but looked intent on Tuesday on avoiding a winless lead-up, which included straight-sets dismissals to Gael Monfils in Halle and Ivan Dodig in Eastbourne.
He was unfortunate two years ago at Wimbledon when he fell heavily in the second round and had to retire hurt against Gilles Muller, while last year American Sam Querrey sprung the upset in the battle of the big North Americans in the second round.
Raonic started the year with a solid fourth-round showing at the Australian Open before going on to became the first player to win three consecutive San Jose titles. From there his season has plateaued badly, progressing beyond the Round of 16 in just one of his past 10 events.
“Here I… had the intention of whatever it means and whatever you have to do, win,” Raonic said.
“I think when I had the chances to be aggressive I did, took care of my serve much better than I had the last two weeks and I returned well, kept pressure on his serve the whole time.”
“I feel much more comfortable [on the grass now]… I’m winning enough of my first-serve points, enough of my second-serve points that if it gets to a tiebreak I have that cushion.”
For Berlocq, it represents the 22nd time he has failed to progress beyond the second round of a Grand Slam and a sixth loss at Wimbledon from as many appearances.
For Raonic, a path to a potential fourth-round encounter with fourth seed David Ferrer was made easier earlier when German 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber retired hurt from his match.
The possibility of introducing hockey masks and protective padding for the on-court crew before his next match against Igor Sijsling, though, is at long odds.
“That’s definitely not going to happen,” he said.
“Too much … there’s a lot of tradition. Even the way they roll the balls is different to the other Grand Slams.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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