Milos Raonic will seek his 5th ATP final of the 2016 season when he meets Grigor Dimitrov in the China Open semifinals. Dimitrov can get to this third final of the season with a win. It would be his first since the spring in Istanbul, while Raonic’s last final came at Wimbledon.
(3) Milos Raonic vs Grigor Dimitrov
Raonic completed a busy Friday by sweeping a double header over Malek Jaziri and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both wins came in straight sets as the third seed was forced to play two matches due to rain delays from during the week. Raonic had little issue with an over matched Jaziri as he won 40 of 46 service points in route to a 6-3, 6-4 win. He would rack up eleven aces in the dominant win. Against Carreno Busta, it was a bit tougher. Raonic was broken for the first time all tournament, but still used his serve to handle PCB 6-4, 6-4. The Canadian racked up 13 more aces in the win. He would win 35 of 44 first serve points, but struggled some with his second serve winning just 42 percent of the points. The biggest issue to come out of the long day was an ankle injury. Raonic rolled his right ankle early in the first set. He seemed okay the rest of the way, but that could be a definite worry for the match on Saturday.
Dimitrov scored the upset of second seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4 on Friday. It will be a boost of confidence to th Bulgarian as it was his first win against Rafa in eight tries. Truly though, Nadal was terrible in most aspects of his game on Friday. His serve was weak with Nadal only winning 49 percent of his service points. He was under constant pressure with a whopping 15 break points against his serve. Dimitrov would cash in five times on those chances. Dimitrov did enough with his own serve to take care of business, winning 69 percent of the first serve points and 47 percent off his second serve. By the second set, Dimitrov had improved greatly with 19 of 22 points won off his first serve. Nadal never improved with the serve off and his forehand misfiring as well. Dimitrov took full advantage and will feel good about being on court for just over an hour and a half against Nadal.
Saturday’s clash between these two will be the fourth all-time meeting with Dimitrov leading the series 2-1. It will be their first match since the 2014 Australian Open. Raonic has certainly improved his tennis tactics since that point, so this could make for a different match than the previous ones. However, the right ankle injury also may keep Raonic from coming to the net all that much on Saturday. Dimitrov should be keen to test Raonic’s movement early and often to learn his opponent’s limitations. The stability of the ankle looms a large factor in this match as it could also alter Raonic’s ability to push off fully on his serve, thus reducing the power and effectiveness of his major weapon – the serve.
The last meeting back in 2014 saw a terrific effort from Dimitrov who was virtually flawless in the 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10) second round win in Melbourne. He had just 13 unforced errors in the match compared to 39 for Raonic. Dimitrov nearly equaled Raonic’s winners total with 49 compared to 50 overall. The Dimitrov serve posted better numbers than Raonic for the day, winning 80 percent of the points, while Raonic’s won just 68. It was still a match that came down to a few crucial points in the end with Raonic being broken twice on four chances and Dimitrov just once on three chances. Dimitrov was aggressive and precise, two things he has not been accused of often enough since then.
It would behoove Dimitrov to hearken back to that last match to remember those tactics as he squares off against Raonic v.2016. Dimitrov doesn’t want to be too soft in his ground play and allow Raonic to dictate baseline rallies, where his powerful forehand will be a major issue for Dimitrov to match. With the ankle as a question mark, it makes aggressive ground play an even better tactic for the Bulgarian. Even if Raonic responds well enough, Dimitrov could wear him down by making him move to test how much gas is left in the tank after the double header on Friday for the Candian. The plus for Raonic is that the two matches combined were only about two and a half hours, so it likely is the ankle that is the bigger concern for him.
First and foremost, Dimitrov must take care of his serve. It was not good early on against Nadal, but he was fortunate that the Spaniard was worse. You can never expect that gift from “The Missile” even if he might be less than 100 percent fit for this one. As for Raonic, the battle for him could be largely mental. He will know going in how he feels and he’ll have an idea of what he can and cannot do. Mentally, it will be on him to disguise his limitations and to not have himself in the mindset of a hurt player to open the match. If he starts off without belief in his body, then he’s already in a poor place.
It is difficult to predict this one due to Raonic’s injury status. Dimitrov has racked up some nice wins this week, but certainly did not face as tough a challenge as one would have expected against Nadal in the quarterfinals. That could be beneficial however as the prospect of a long, grinding match that one normally sees against Nadal could have left him less effective for Saturday. Now, he is the player arriving in better shape and it comes down to execution of a solid game plan to nab a spot in the final. He will need a cleaner match than what he showed against Nadal, but this one is likely to give him that opportunity with shorter ground exchanges in more comfortable positions.
If the ankle isn’t a bother, then this has the makings of a really good one. The Raonic serve is still going to be tough to break down, meaning Dimitrov will feel pressure to match on his own serve. I would expect Raonic even more so than usual will want to keep the points short for this one. He’ll look to his serve and his forehand to provide those points. Even though it was against a pitiful effort from Nadal, the confidence of scoring win #1 against Rafa will help add to Dimitrov’s brimming confidence this week. Add in Raonic’s ankle and The Pig goes with the Bulgarian to scrape past the third seed and into the final.
Dimitrov wins in three sets