Murray vs. Raonic – US Open Preview

Posted on September 3, 2012

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written by Robert Pollard

Raonic stands in the way of another Grand Slam quarter-final for Murray

Andy Murray’s bid for a maiden Grand Slam title continues under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight against the in form Canadian Milos Raonic in the fourth round of the US Open. It will be a stern test for Murray who was made to fight hard for his third round win over Feliciano Lopez on Saturday, eventually securing a 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) victory in a match fraught with difficulty. It lasted almost four hours, with the searing heat and the Spaniard’s wicked serve and aggressive tactics causing Murray all sorts of problems. Murray must improve his performance level if he is to beat Raonic and take his place in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows for the third time.

On paper, the match against Lopez should have been straight forward. Murray sits 27 places above him in the rankings and had a 6-0 head-to-head lead going into the match, including a straight sets victory at the same stage of the US Open 12 months ago. But Lopez was inspired, serving well and coming to the net regularly, a tactic which worked brilliantly and clearly took Murray by surprise. The Spaniard came forward 50 times during the match with a 74 per cent success rate; a more attacking style than the world number 31 has implemented in his previous matches with Murray.

The most worrying statistic from Murray’s perspective was the capitulation of his first serve, which dropped from an excellent 81 per cent in the first set to a poor 50 per cent by the fourth. Serving percentages like that do not win Grand Slam titles and world number 4 must improve if he is to advance further. The major positive for Murray was the mental strength he showed in winning three tie-breaks which ultimately secured his passage in to the last 16.

In stark contrast to Murray, Raonic’s third round win was straight forward. He defeated home favourite James Blake in under 2 hours, serving 29 aces and winning 89 per cent of points on his first serve. It was a masterclass in how to serve big and Blake had no answer to the power and accuracy of Raonic’s serving. It was all very easy for the 21-year-old who  breezed through with little energy expended.

Raonic is one of the fastest rising stars on tour, with recent last 8 appearances in Toronto and Cincinnati securing his place in the top 20 for the first time. His game appears to be developing nicely. This year he is second only to John Isner in terms of aces, having hit an incredible 733 in his 47 matches, and nobody has a better percentage of points won on the first serve, with 83 per cent of points won when his first serve goes in (Murray is 23rd with 74 per cent). He is a difficult opponent growing in confidence.

However, his returning statistics are far less frightening. Whereas Murray wins 31 per cent of his return games, the 5th highest on the tour, Raonic manages only 16 per cent. This is clearly Raonic’s weakness which Murray must seek to exploit. The British number one almost certainly has the game to beat Raonic having proven time and again that he loves nothing more than using the pace of a big serve to his advantage. Murray prides himself on his return game and he will get many more balls back than Blake did which Raonic could struggle to deal with. It is an intriguing match up and certainly the most difficult challenge Murray has faced so far at this US Open.

The last time Murray failed to reach at least the quarter-final of a Grand Slam event was at the 2010 US Open, losing in four sets to Stanislas Wawrinka on the Louis Armstrong Stadium at the 3rd round stage. His record in the major tournaments since then has been superb. Raonic poses a threat to that record but Murray’s counter-punch style makes him favourite. One thing is for sure, expect to see much more of Milos Raonic in the coming years.

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Posted in: Tennis