The winner gets a spot in the Shanghai Rolex Masters quarterfinals when Milos Raonic and Jack Sock clash for the 10th time. Raonic has dominated the head-to-head with eight straight wins since Sock won their first-ever meeting in Memphis back in 2013.
(5) Milos Raonic vs Jack Sock
Raonic got away to a comfortable start in Shanghai with a 6-2, 6-4 whipping of Paolo Lorenzi. The 5th seed was dominant with his first serve winning 84 percent of the points as he tallied 14 aces overall. Raonic would not face a single break point and converted three against Lorenzi on three chances. The Canadian said it was important that he was efficient in his opening match, a 65 minute buzzsaw victory. Raonic played for the first time since injuring his right ankle last week in Beijing. That injury was significant enough at the time to force his withdrawal from the tournament in the semifinals. Raonic said the ankle still hurts, but he’s learning to manage the pain.
As for Sock, he has worked his way into the third round with a pair of hard fought wins this week. After beating Guido Pella to open, Sock outlasted Feliciano Lopez on Wednesday 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to advance to the third round in Shanghai for the second time in his career. He accomplished the same feat in 2014, where he lost to Julien Benneteau. Sock was mostly solid against Lopez, crushing 15 aces and winning 69 percent of his service points. His first serve netted him 77 percent of the points as he was broken just once on four chances. The American would break Lopez twice on seven chances, including the decisive break in the fifth game of the final set.
These two are obviously no strangers to each other with nine previous meetings. That includes two straight sets wins for Raonic in 2016, one in Miami and the other at Wimbledon. Of their nine matches, nine of the last 18 sets played have gone to tiebreaks. Despite the lopsided number of wins for Raonic, their matches have rarely been blowouts. A big key for Raonic has been those tiebreaks, where he has won all nine that the pair have played. And he has destroyed Sock in quit a few of them with only two seeing Sock win as many as four points. When it comes to crunch time, Raonic has had the goods and Sock has failed to handle the pressure.
These two both rely on their forehands as their major weapon of choice off the ground. They both also possess huge serves, but it is Raonic who is elite in that category, while Sock often fails to measure up to his potential power. Their Wimbledon clash was a perfect example. Raonic won 87 percent of his first serve points. Sock won 74. Raonic blasted 27 aces. Sock had nine. The American was forced into saving nine break points, doing well to save eight of those. The Canadian needed to save just three and did so perfectly. Raonic’s game is just bigger. 60 winners in that match to only 26 for Sock with the American spraying 27 unforced errors to only 19 for Raonic.
The Miami meeting was similar, but Sock truly played that one toe-to-toe. He faced less break chances (2) than Raonic (5), but suffered the lone break of serve in the 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss. He again racked up too many unforced errors off the ground with a whopping 31 to just 17 winners. Raonic didn’t have a huge game in that category with the slower conditions, only tallying 21 winners to offset 24 unforced errors. The freebies still favored Raonic with 12 aces to four for Sock. Again, those few points with just a bigger game make the difference.
So how can Sock break the losing streak? He may need to go out of his comfort zone. That means maybe playing a few more longer rallies to test the stability of that ankle and the true pain threshold for Raonic, rather than going for the short 1-2 points that Sock prefers. It’s a tough ask for Sock in my opinion to break away from being more aggressive and engaging in some longer rallies, but you need to play to your opponent. In this case, he’s going against someone who definitely is not 100 percent.
To me, if Sock simply relies on serving well and hitting massive forehands as quick as he can to end points, he’ll play into Raonic’s hands again. Raonic would love nothing more than to play short points and rely on his big serve to dominate. If he keeps his movement minimal, then the ankle holds up. That is why Sock would be wise to at least mix it up a bit to work Raonic around the court. Certainly when the Canadian is 100 percent fit, that’s not a strong strategy, but in this case … it could be.
I’m still pretty shocked that Raonic decided to give it a go this week with the ankle injury rather than rest. He’s not protected his points from last year’s Shanghai Masters, so everything from here on out is icing on top of the cake. The winner in this one makes their first quarterfinal at this event, so that is a big feather in the cap for either player. That means you should get the effort level from both. This tournament has already produced some big seeded upsets and this could be another. Sock will need to top an 80 percent win rate on his first serve I think to win this one. When he has done that against Raonic, the matches have usually gone down to the wire and often wound up being decided on those tiebreaks.
0-9 in those breakers says Sock has no chance if that is the case. However, if he comes in with a good game plan to work Raonic around the court some, that could be a bit of a difference maker perhaps late in the match. If this goes to the usual short and sweet point structure between the two, then Raonic likely makes it nine straight. The non-believer in me thinks Sock’s wonky return game and error-prone ground game will find a way to lose. I would not be stunned however if he does find a way to notch the win if Raonic’s movement is compromised some.
Raonic wins in three sets