A spot in the semifinals is on the line at the ATP World Tour Finals when Milos Raonic and Dominic Thiem meet in the final Round Robin match of the Ivan Lendl Group. Both players are 1-1 in the group after beating Gael Monfils and losing to Novak Djokovic.
(4) Milos Raonic vs (8) Dominic Thiem
Raonic heads into this one on the heels of a tough 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) loss to Novak Djokovic on Tuesday. It marked the eighth straight time that Djokovic tasted victory over Raonic, but perhaps was one of the best fought matches the Canadian has played against him. It was more of the same for Raonic though as his second serve was picked apart more readily by the Serb to the tune of 21 of 33 points won by Djokovic. That offset Raonic’s blistering first serve that won 84 percent of the points and helped in large part to produce 14 aces on the day. Djokovic did break Raonic twice in the second set, but it was Raonic who showed spirit by getting those breaks back by converting on two of four chances. Ultimately though, it was a nother loss to Djokovic and now a must-win situation versus Thiem.
Thiem survived a shotty second set to out duel Gael Monfils for his first career win at the Tour Finals; 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 on Tuesday. Thiem was tough as nails in sets one and three with his first serve leading the way as it won 84 percent of the points combined. When the Austrian was locked in for those sets, he did not face a break point. In the second, Thiem could do no right as he was broken three times as he won a paltry 29 percent of his service points. Thiem would see four break chances in the final set with the key conversion coming on match point as Monfils sent a forehand long to hand Thiem the break and the match. Thiem said afterward that he felt fortunate with the win, “The third set was very tight. Luckily he helped me in the last game of the match. Maybe I was the lucky one today.”
This “winner moves on” match will mark the second time that Raonic and Thiem have locked horns in their careers. This summer in Cincinnati, it was Raonic scoring the straight sets 6-3, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open. Raonic’s serve was untouchable on the quick surface in Cincy as he pounded 17 aces and won a sensational 29 of 31 points off his first serve. Thiem could not match the intensity as he dropped serve twice, facing seven break points in all. He would win a respectable 77 percent of his first serve points, but only took 44 percent on his second serve. That was compounded by Thiem landing just 56 percent of his first serves in play, meaning that Raonic saw 27 second serves and 35 first serves from his opponent.
It’s not difficult to fathom a similar pattern developing on Thursday. Raonic’s first serve has continued to be a spectacular weapon this week. He’s won 85 percent of the points played between his matches against Monfils and Djokovic. Outside of Djokovic’s brilliant returning and defense against his second serve, Raonic has pretty much dominated the action on serve as expected. For Thiem, it’s particularly troubled too that his pattern this week has been a dreastic dip in level following the first set. He recovered against Monfils, but could not in his opener against Djokovic. He’ll need a much more even level of play throughout if he’s going to contend with scoring the upset against Raonic.
Thiem realistically has to have an outstanding service day to match Raonic and that’s been a difficult ask for the Austrian against some of the bigger players on tour at times. His first serve is a good weapon, but the consistency is what can get him into trouble. He must land a good percentage of first serves in play, probably 60 percent minimum, to keep Raonic from getting too many looks at a weaker second serve. That is definitely part of what plagued him in their Cincinnati meeting. An even bigger part of the strategy for Thiem is his mental game. Playing Raonic tests even the best to keep focused when missiles are flying by you regularly on serve. Thiem has to remain calm and wait for the few opportunities he might get off the Raonic serve and then hope to be the better big point player.
Off the ground, Raonic has played with some animosity to his ground strokes as you’d expect and you would expect he’ll grip it and rip it in this one as well. His forehand is the obvious danger and he complements it with a decent backhand. Thiem won’t mind if the ground rallies stick more to the baseline where he is most comfortable. That should lead Raonic to bring more action to the net to take Thiem out of his comfort zone and the Canadian has of course shown great improvement and willingness to go to the net this year. If they do stay in more baseline exchanges, Thiem will try to use his powerful one handed backhand to craft winners and tough angles. His forehand is solid. He just simply cannot match the power that Raonic delivers with his forehand.
The bottom line here is that this looks to be a poor match-up on this surface for Thiem. The quick indoor conditions will make it difficult for him to make inroads off the Raonis serve. If he’s fortunate, he can match serve for serve and hope to possibly steal a tiebreak. Raonic is still very tough there at 26-12 this season, while Thiem is now 21-14 in breakers in 2016. Still, if he can get there, there’s always a chance that one loose point makes a large difference.
The problem may be getting there in the first place as I think Thiem will be under constant pressure on his serve in order to match Raonic’s holds. The question mark for Raonic this week was his health following the thigh tear he suffered in Paris. So far, he’s looked fine in that regard and for me that always meant he was the best bet to qualify out of this group behind Djokovic. Expect that to be the outcome on Thursday.
Raonic wins in straight sets