Fine Swine: U.S. Open R2 Preview – Raonic vs. Verdasco

milosUSATODAY

Raonic’s Back Could Be Problematic Again
Photo: USA Today



Tenth seed Milos Raonic and Fernando Verdasco face off for the seventh time in their careers. They are split even at 3-3 in those match-ups. Raonic won the most recent in 2013 at the Shanghai Masters 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.

(10) Milos Raonic vs. Fernando Verdasco
This was already a possible landmine for Raonic and now word comes down that the Canadian had to cancel a practice session with a recurrence of back spasms that have affected him this summer. Raonic had said prior to the tournament starting that the back spasms were behind him and he was “healthy as he could be.” That obviously has changed in the last day and will now be a key ingredient to Wednesday’s match.

For Raonic, the opening round was simple enough. He used his powerful serve to dispatch Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6, 6-1. He had 17 aces to go with six double faults. He saved all six break points that he gave out and won 83 percent of his first serve points. The bad in this match was Raonic’s unforced error count which tallied at 43 compared to 51 winners. Verdasco had a more adventurous first round match against Tommy Haas. The German challenged the Spaniard heavily by taking a two sets to one lead after winning the third set tie break. It was Verdasco though who was the more fit of the two as he wore down a fatiguing Haas 6-3, 6-1 over the final two sets for the five set win. Verdasco won nine of the last ten games played. He looked solid with his movement all match and his serve was very good when he needed it most. He amassed 22 aces and won 80 percent of his first serve points, while being broken just three times on seven chances.

When these two last met, Raonic had yet to become the budding star he showed in 2014 at Grand Slams with a quarterfinal at the French Open and a semifinal showing at Wimbledon. Verdasco was slumping to end a fairly productive season that saw him make the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Verdasco had won their first meeting in 2013 on clay in Madrid, a three set win with a final set tie break win, 9-7. Their other four meetings all came in 2011 when Verdasco was still teetering among the Top 10 in the rankings. Raonic has won all three meetings on hard surfaces with two coming indoors in Memphis and San Jose. The Spaniard has taken at least one set off of Raonic in five of the six meetings, so this looks to be a competitive battle.

With the news of Raonic’s back flaring up, this could become even more daunting for the tenth seed. He was already short on form and match play coming in and now will likely be less than 100 percent while facing a player who has shown good durability and resolve. Raonic has been decent against lefties with a 20-18 mark against them at this level. That includes 3-1 this season. That one loss did come this summer in Cincinnati to Verdasco’s countryman Feliciano Lopez in straight sets 7-6, 6-4. This is a big match in this draw because the winner has a realistic shot to make it to the fourth round and perhaps a step further with the aforementioned Lopez and 8th seeded Rafael Nadal as the highest seeds in that part of the draw.

I think it will be evident what shape Raonic is in during the first set. Back problems can affect every aspect of a player’s game. Even if they do not flare up during the match, mentally it can again wreak havoc with Raonic and cause overcompensation on other body parts. If there is a problem, the serve won’t have that necessary oomph to get Raonic cheap points. That means Verdasco will likely see some break chances. He must be ruthless in converting these, something he has not always done well this season. He is breaking opponents at around a 35 percent rate. In the opener, he did break Haas eight times on 13 chances, a 62 percent conversion rate. The closer to or above 50 percent that Verdasco can be on break conversions, the better shot he has to pull an upset.

If Milos’ serve is clicking, there could be some very tight sets as he may struggle to get on top of the Spaniard’s serve that was very good in round one. That means tie breaks could huge. Raonic has not been as good this year as usual in that category with a 16-15 record. His career record in tie breaks is much closer to 60 percent in the win column. Verdasco is 11-9 in tie breaks this season, but just under .500 for his career. When fully fit, I would give Raonic the edge for tie breaks simply because his serve is so stout and puts pressure on his opponent to match.

Given the health concerns, it will pretty much be a toss up and may come down to unforced errors. Verdasco had just one more unforced error in five sets with 42 than Raonic had with 41 in three sets. That could be an advantage in the Spaniard’s favor. I was already leaning towards Verdasco pulling an upset here without the news of Raonic’s latest setback. With that in tow, Verdasco should have plenty of belief that if he plays well, he can win.

Prediction
Verdasco wins in four sets

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