Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic square off for the third time this season with Tuesday’s winner taking control of the Ivan Lendl Group at the ATP World Tour Finals. Djokovic is 7-0 lifetime against the Canadian, including a pair of wins this season.
Novak Djokovic vs Milos Raonic
Djokovic opened play in London with a comeback win over Dominic Thiem 6-7 (10), 6-0, 6-2. The last two sets were encouraging for the Serb who looked more like his dominant self after dropping the opener. In all honesty, Thiem deserves credit for how well he played in the opening set. Djokovic was unable to crack the Austrian’s serve, but turned the tables quickly in the second set. He would break Thiem three times in the second and then twice more in the final set as he ripped apart the 23-year-old’s serve, taking 23 of the 41 points played off Thiem’s serve. The Serb said he was pleased with how he recaptured his composure as he smashed a ball into the stands in frustration after dropping the first set. Djokovic said, “I think I managed to kind of compose myself and really gather all my attention and concentration to what was coming up after that.”
Djokovic still appeared to be quite moody at times during the match and especially with reporters following the match. The good news obviously is that he didn’t just win, but came back to crush Thiem in the final two sets. That should at least do something for his on-court confidence headed into this match. He shouldn’t need much given his dominance over Raonic, but at this stage and with how the Serb has been lately, it’s a good sign for the Serb.
As for Raonic, he had little issue with Gael Monfils in his opening match on Sunday. Raonic looked healthy coming off a thigh tear last week in Paris. He was barely troubled on serve as the #4 player in the world smashed 12 aces and controlled play as he won 86 percent of his first serve points. Raonic did not face a break point and was able to keep pressure on Monfils with eight chances against the Frenchman’s serve. He would break Monfils once in each set. Raonic said this was a perfect way to put his mind at ease over the thigh injury, “I feel like this is an ideal way to start considering the doubts that I was having. Some of the things I heard in the diagnosis were not the most positive, so this was a great way to turn it around.”
Their two meetings earlier this year came during Djokovic’s electric start to the first half of the season. The Serb crushed Raonic at Indian Wells 6-2, 6-0 and followed that with a 6-3, 6-4 win on clay in Madrid. Djokovic destroyed Raonic’s second serve in Indian Wells, taking an insane 27 of 30 points. He was locked in on return again in Madrid, taking 34 percent of the first serve points off the Canadian and 55 percent on his second serve. Through those two matches, he saw a whopping 21 break chances. He would convert on seven. Raonic conversely saw just three off the Djokovic serve and could not muster a single break of serve. If you go back through their seven career meetings, that has often been a big trouble spot for Raonic. His return game just has not been good enough to trouble Djokovic much in this series.
To the point for this meeting, Raonic has to do better on return. If he is not getting break chances against Djokovic, his chances of winning are minimal. On the plus side, his serve looked close to its best against Monfils who isn’t a poor returner in his own right. That should give Raonic some confidence going into this one, but he’ll need that serve to hold up early. If Djokovic cracks it early in the opening set, it’s doom and gloom time for the Canadian.
Djokovic will obviously feel comfortable in this match-up due to the past results and his start here in London also showed some of his best overall play in weeks. For Raonic, his task is to make this match uncomfortable for Djokovic. With the Serb still looking like he wants to rip his skin off at times, Raonic’s ability to dominant with his serve could help frustrate Djokovic. Off the ground, Raonic will look to be aggressive and will want to keep the points short. Longer rallies almost always favor the athleticism and defense of Djokovic.
The Serb would love nothing more than to turn this into a ground exchange war. Raonic has the weapons to contend and beat him from the baseline, but that’s not his specialty. It’s Djokovic’s and it’s an appetite for destruction for opponents who try to win in rallies. Even with his frustration level higher right now, Djokovic still plays points properly nine times out of ten. It’s simply whether his ground strokes let him down or not when he goes for winners. If he’s making the uncharacteristic errors that have plagued him at-times in the second half of the season, then Raonic must smell that blood in the water and go for the kill.
Raonic should take solace in what Thiem did to Djokovic in the opening set of their match. Thiem used solid serving to keep himself in that set and stole it late. Raonic’s serve is well ahead of Thiem’s in effectiveness, so the opening set might be Raonic’s best shot to get on the board and break a streak of 12 straight sets dropped to the Serb. I’m still not entirely convinced that Djokovic will respond well to pressure this entire week, but he’s really done the job against Raonic in that category during their careers.
The Serb is 4-1 in tiebreaks versus Raonic, so that route may not yield Raonic any success. The gut feeling in this one as that Raonic can take a set from Djokovic, but it’s difficult yet not impossible to see Raonic winning the match. Djokovic has dropped matches to players he had big win streaks over like Marin Cilic and Roberto Bautista Agut in recent times – Raonic will be hopefully he can add to that list. This might be his best shot.
Djokovic wins in three sets