“The tournament doesn't start until Monday, really,” said Milos Raonic, through to the second week at The Championships for the first time after a 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-2 win over 2013 quarter-finalist Lukasz Kubot. “Now you’ve got to step up your level. It's not about just getting through – at this point you have to be playing good tennis, and you’ve got to compete like crazy.”
In that sense, Raonic is battle-hardened. His third straight-sets victory had all the hallmarks of the grass-court tennis of old – big serving, short rallies and a handful of points separating both men. The No.8 seed ended the contest with another 30 aces, a testament to his focus in a match devoid of a break point until the third set. He knew Kubot would be no pushover having practised with the Pole in the past, and denied the wily 32-year-old the chance to dominate at the net when it mattered – but not before the added complication of a hefty rain delay.
“By the time you get taped up and everything, it takes about 45 minutes to get ready for a match, so always you have to be on the edge of your feet,” Raonic said. “Around 3pm, from what I was hearing, the rain wouldn't really stop until 6pm. I took, let's say, a safe gamble and took a nap.”
Suitably refreshed, play did indeed resume shortly after 6pm at 2-3 in the first set. Kubot, whose doubles acumen lends itself particularly well to grass, came forward whenever the opportunity presented itself to showcase his fine volleys. Unfortunately the Pole moves a little too much like a doubles player at times, and was often guilty of leaving vast swathes of the court unguarded when confined to the baseline. Raonic, far happier at the back than his opponent, leaned heavily on his forehand to keep Kubot at bay.
The Canadian, rock solid behind more typically huge serving, spurned a handful of opportunities to make an impression against Kubot’s serve as the set drifted towards a tie-break. When it mattered, however, the 23-year-old was sharper than the onrushing Kubot, forcing the Pole into two crucial serve-volley errors.
“I don't think there is really a match that I would say to this point, especially in a Grand Slam, that I was able to be as dominant as I was on my serve,” admitted Raonic, who dropped just nine points on serve in the match. “That definitely makes my life a lot easier and puts pressure on him. Also, at the same time, I didn't really have my opportunities.”
The second set was nothing short of a serving masterclass from both men, until Kubot undid all his good work with an early double-fault, the first of the match. It was a cruel blow for the Pole, who dropped just four points on serve in the entire set, but Raonic was clinical, capping a two-set lead with his 21st and 22nd aces of the match.
Kubot redoubled his efforts to come forward early in the third set but paid a heavy price when Raonic brought up the first break points of the match at 1-2. The Pole saved the first with a service winner but double-faulted on the second, drawing a fired-up fist-pump from the otherwise muted Canadian. Serving to stay in the match, Kubot’s concentration wavered once more and Raonic pounced, wrapping up victory with a backhand return winner.
Raonic faces either Kei Nishikori or Simone Bolleli – locked at 3-3 in the fifth set late on Saturday before bad light stopped play – with a chance to match his quarter-final run at the French Open, the 23-year-old’s best Grand Slam performance to date.
“I struggled with Kei in the past,” admitted Raonic. “Also the one time I played Bolelli I struggled as well, but I was able to get a win. Both will be very difficult matches. I’ve got to take care of my serve first and foremost, and then try to figure out solutions in the other aspects.”
Whoever it may be in the fourth round, they face a man growing accustomed to life at the business end of tournaments. All but unbreakable in this first week of The Championships, Raonic will take some beating in the second.
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...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all