Queen’s 2016: Raonic battles past old-new rival Kyrgios, Isner downs Del Potro
World No9 Milos Raonic downs Australia's NIck Kyrgios 6-7 6-4 6-4 at Queen's
It took two days, three sets, and well over two hours, but the No3 seed Milos Raonic halted his losing streak against a younger player who had become something of a thorn in his side during the last 12 months, Nick Kyrgios.
For while top seed Andy Murray and second seed Stan Wawrinka, Grand Slam champions both, headed a star-studded line-up on Tuesday’s packed schedule at the Aegon Championships, neither of their matches, arguably, was the most intriguing of the day.
That accolade went to two younger men: the dangerous shot-maker with all-court flair—and a personality to match—Kyrgios against one of the players tipped for future Grand Slam success, Raonic, and that included his new coaching consultant, John McEnroe.
For although the 25-year-old Canadian is ranked 10 places higher than Kyrgios’ 19, the 21-year-old Australian, one of the ATP’s #NextGen stars, had won three of their previous five meetings, the last three in a row—including the third-round at Wimbledon last year. With subsequent wins over Raonic in Miami and Rome, that made a clean-sweep of surfaces.
The tall, rangy teenager who bristles with bravado, burst onto Wimbledon’s grass in 2014 to make the quarters in his first ever appearance, then reached the quarters at the Australian Open, too—all before his 20th birthday.
And unpredictable as Kyrgios’s tennis proved to be—for he has also had his fair share of injury problems—the young Australian won his first title this year in Marseille, beating Marin Cilic, Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych in the process. He made his first Masters semi in Miami, beat Wawrinka in Madrid, and almost undid Rafael Nadal in Rome.
He therefore arrived for his second appearance at Queen’s with a 5-5 record against top-10 players, and more than capable of upsetting Raonic’s plans.
So could the presence of former multiple Wimbledon and Queen’s champion McEnroe find that little something extra in the Canadian’s grass tennis? After all Raonic had a semi run at Wimbledon to his name already, plus a semi finish at the Australian this year.
He too had faced injury issues, including foot surgery last year after reaching a career high No4 in the rankings, and then a muscle tear earlier this season, yet he continued to put together consistent results across the board, highlighted by his first Masters final in Indian Wells followed by three quarter-final runs at the next three Masters.
And as has been the hallmark of this big-hitting, intelligent player, Raonic was leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of improvement. The McEnroe appointment is just the latest example, adding the American’s superb grass-court expertise to a team that already includes Carlos Moya and Riccardo Piatti—and it is only six months since he separated from another big-serving former player, Ivan Ljubicic.
It was clear from the off, then, that both men realised a lot was on line here, and by the time a halt was called on Centre Court for bad light just before 9pm, their match was in the balance.
Kyrgios managed to pull off a tie-break hold in the first set in the face of some formidable serving from Raonic—the Canadian dropped only four out of 39 first-serve points—7-6(5), but that serving became even more potent as the gloom descended in Kensington. Raonic broke in the fifth game and held his advantage for the set, 6-4.
When they finally got on court again Wednesday afternoon, the sun was out, and the match continued to make tight progress to 4-4. But Kyrgios served perhaps his poorest game of the match, including two double faults, and Raonic took advantage to break.
Yet the Canadian looked tight in trying to serve it out, netted a forehand, then hit a backhand wide, to offer two break-back points. However Kyrgios’s chance was snuffed out by three straight aces—he would end the match with 20 of them—and a big second serve on match-point sealed the match, 6-4, after two hours and four minutes.
Raonic next plays the No68-ranked Jiri Vesely, into the main draw as a lucky loser. The 22-year-old was another young player tipped to rise to the top of the game and won the ATP Star of Tomorrow award in 2013 for being the youngest player to finish in the top 100. He broke the top 40 a year ago, but the left-hander has since struggled to capitalise on his own big-serving game.
The two have met only once before, at the French Open in 2014, where Raonic won in straight sets.
Another high-profile opening round was between No7 seed John Isner and former US Open champion, here with a protected ranking after years of wrist problems. Extraordinarily, for two men who have enjoyed top-20 status for years, not only had they never met at a Grand Slam but had never played on grass.
Del Potro showed just how much rust he still had to remove from his game, though perhaps he had some carry-over from a semi-run in Stuttgart last week—his first tournament in a month. But Isner was clinical in his serving, producing 25 aces in his 7-6(2), 6-4 win, and next plays another big server in Gilles Muller.