Stefanos Tsitsipas has already overcome big servers this week, but it’s the memory of Milos Raonic’s performance in January that gives the fourth-seeded Greek food for thought ahead of their Western & Southern Open semi-final on Friday.
Raonic has proven time and again this week that when he’s fully fit, he is a major force. And if their only previous ATP Head2Head meeting is anything to go by, tennis fans globally could be in a for a treat when they watch their semi-final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Raonic hit 55 winners, including 19 aces, to knock out Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(2) in the 2020 Australian Open third round. Read Match Report
“I had a lot of trouble returning Raonic’s serve at the Australian Open,” admitted Tsitsipas this week in New York. “[The win] was very well deserved from his side because he played unbelievable that day. I was very upset I wasn’t able to find solutions that day. His serve was really a weapon, causing a lot of damage.”
Tsitsipas has shown he’s not afraid of big servers, demonstrating in victories over Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Reilly Opelka en route to his fifth ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, that he will readily use his slice and block returns in order to work his way into points. If he can get the better of Raonic, he’ll reach his third Masters 1000 final (after 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto and the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open).
But Raonic has played with tremendous focus this week and used his biggest weapon to his advantage. Incredibly, the Canadian has hit 76 aces in four matches and won 140 of his 165 first-service points.
Speaking earlier this week, Raonic admitted he treated the Tour suspension like an off-season in Florida and the Bahamas, saying, “I started treating it like we did pre-season for six weeks of training, and I did three blocks of that. I did one right after we got shut down on March 11 or 12, took 10 days off, started around the 24th. I did six weeks, took two weeks off, another six weeks, took two weeks off, and another six weeks leading up to here.”
Raonic, who recorded the 350th match win of his career over Sam Querrey in the Western & Southern Open first round, has also overcome Daniel Evans, two-time former champion Andy Murray and saved one match point against Filip Krajinovic at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament. Following his loss, Murray praised Raonic, saying: “He serves big and he’s aggressive. It’s not easy. Once you let him get ahead, like I did at the beginning of the match, he plays very well and it’s tough to put pressure on him.”
Raonic also knows what it takes to advance to a Masters 1000 final, having played in three title matches before at the 2013 Coupe Rogers in Montreal, the 2014 Rolex Paris Masters and at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. He will be attempting to reach his first hard-court final since February 2017 at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com.
Prior to the Tour suspension in March, Tsitsipas had lifted his fifth ATP Tour crown at the Open 13 Provence (d. Auger-Aliassime) and finished runner-up at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (l. to Djokovic). He’s delighted to be back in tournament action, saying, “It’s great being back on court. I really feel the joy of being able to compete again and play against the rest of the ATP players. It’s good to be back in my natural habitat, being able to compete at such a high level [and] strive for so much. It’s the adrenaline, the everyday routine that fulfils me, makes me feel like I compete for something important.”
Tsitsipas or Raonic will meet World No. 1 and 2018 champion Novak Djokovic or eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who play in the second semi-final.