Australian Open 2015: Devastating Djokovic downs Raonic for Wawrinka blockbuster
Novak Djokovic beats Milos Raonic to set up an Australian Open semi-final clash with Stan Wawrinka
The numbers are always big when it comes to the serving of the leader of 1990s pack, Milos Raonic.
By the time he faced Novak Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open quarter-final, he had hit 99 aces, topping out at 142mph, faced only seven break points, and been broken just twice.
This smart, focused, hard-working 24-year-old was proving himself very consistent too: a first serve average of 72 percent and, even more impressive, winning 64 percent of points on his second serve.
But Raonic has grown into more than the sum of his serving parts under the tutelage of Ivan Ljubicic: Of his 219 winners, 73 had been made at the net.
His problem was that Djokovic could not just match but counter his strengths at every turn. The world No1 can switch from defence to attack to defence in the blink of an eye—and has a tactical brain as quick as his lightening-fast reactions.
Less heralded, but increasingly a key feature of his game, has been the Djokovic serve. Perhaps not as fast as that of Raonic but with angle, placement, kick, variety, you name it. In the tournament thus far, he had notched up 40 aces, but he also matched Raonic on both first and second serves. He had been broken only once in four matches, and was yet to drop a set.
Interesting, therefore, that in this fifth meeting between the two—the previous four won by the Serb—it was Djokovic who opened with an ace and Raonic with a double fault, Djokovic with a love hold and Raonic defending two break points and three deuces before levelling at 1-1.
Of course the top seed knows the Rod Laver arena, the tournament, and this kind of occasion like the back of his hand. A four-time champion in Australia and bidding to reach his 25th Grand Slam semi-final, Djokovic’s form since winning his second Wimbledon title six months ago has gone from strength to strength.
Since reaching the semi-finals of the US Open, he had been beaten just once, that by Roger Federer in the Shanghai semis, and claimed three titles in his last four tournaments of 2014. He was, safe to say, suffused with the confidence and poise of a man who knows he is at the peak of his powers.
Raonic, a Grand Slam semi-finalist for the first time at Wimbledon last year, had not even reached the quarters in Melbourne before, let alone the semis, and in Djokovic he faced a man who could defuse his power and expose the limitations of his movement in defence. It was always going to be tough.
But the young Canadian is a tenacious man. He bounced back from that opening threat to hold to love twice, only to find himself facing break points again at 3-4.
Again he survived, while Djokovic’s serve progressed almost untroubled. But Raonic stayed calm, and served to love to force a tie-break.
A man of the Canadian’s serving prowess is always a danger when it comes to tennis’s shoot-outs, but here he did not take so much as a single-point lead. He pulled back a 0-2 to deficit to 2-2, but then trailed all the way to its conclusion. Djokovic sealed the set 7-6(5), having dropped only four points on his first serve.
Raonic conceded that tie-break with his 19th unforced error, and was still tight as he opened serve in the second set with two more. He missed four first serves in a row, managed to save the first of three break points but could do nothing about a signature Djokovic backhand cross-court winner.
In stark contrast, Djokovic’s serving rose to a near-perfect level that left not a glimmer of a chance for Raonic. By the time Djokovic served out the set, he had scored three love holds and two holds to 15: two points dropped in 22 deliveries.
Raonic had never recovered from a two-set deficit before and Djokovic looked unlikely to allow a change in that statistic. The Canadian came close to another immediate break in the third, getting caught flat-footed by some searing returns from Djokovic, but he survived two break points.
He scurried his way through a handful of terrific exchanges, too, but was constantly out-manoeuvred by Djokovic. While the Serb calmly served to love, Raonic was broken in the third game and the fifth as the match reached its inevitable conclusion. Again dropping only two points on serve in the set, Djokovic won, 6-2, in a minute short of two hours.
Djokovic sounded as composed in talking of his victory as he had looked in winning it: “Great performance, definitely no complaints… I served very well, and overall just a great match.”
He also alluded to his remarkable receiving performance: Raonic had managed to win barely half of the points on his usually devastating first serve.
“I returned very well… I felt like I had a good chance from the back of the court. Some games I had to let it go and wait for opportunities, and when they were presented try to use them. That’s what I’ve done.
Djokovic’s win sets up one of the most highly anticipated matches of the tournament. He has played Stan Wawrinka in the last two Australian Opens. He won in 2013, 12-10 in the final set, going on to claim the title. Last year, the roles were reversed, with Wawrinka winning the fifth set 9-7 before winning the title. In between, their semi-final at the US Open also went to five sets.
Djokovic expects another blockbuster: “I know both of us will give our best. We always ask from each other the most of our abilities, so I’m looking forward to it.”
This is the first Grand Slam that Djokovic has played as a father. He did not know that his wife Yelena had tweeted a photo of herself holding their son, but quickly hinted at the reason for his serene progress in Melbourne: “See how he watches TV. He’s daddy’s boy, definitely! Didn’t know he was watching… but I felt his energy, so that helped me tonight.”
Maybe that will make the difference in the next match, maybe not: Wawrinka has a four-year-old daughter who is no doubt also paying close attention.
So who will be the daddy?