Milos Raonic was in bullish mood during Monday’s pre-match press conference. “My job is to go out there and make my opponents adjust to me. I feel like I have the ability to be more dangerous than most players when I have the ball out of my hand on the serve… A lot of matches can depend on me.”
“Challenge accepted”, thought Murray, and, two hours later, “mission accomplished”, as he raced into the quarter finals of the US Open with a masterclass 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over his opponent. Raonic, the 21-year old Moldovan-born Canadian and one of the rising stars in world tennis, was fancied by many to cause an upset with his booming serve. But the way in which he was dismantled by Murray will have fans of the Scot purring with delight. He may have been off the pace against Bogomolov and Lopez, and OK against Ivan Dodig, but this was a different level of tennis and one which sends out a clear message of intent to his rivals.
It’s easy to understand why Raonic thought he had a chance. Standing at a towering 6’5’’, his average first serve speed measures 138mph (his fastest is known to be a whopping 155mph) as he is able to generate incredible power from his huge legs. It led to John McEnroe commenting before the match that it could be the greatest serve of all time. At the end of 2010 his ranking was a lowly 156; he has since elevated himself 140 places up that list and it surely won’t be long until a top-10 breakthrough is accomplished.
But Murray, a player who relishes the challenge of big servers, made him look, well, ordinary. The number of shots he has in his locker is quite staggering, and the variety, as well as his exceptional return game, was too much for Raonic. The Canadian was pulled around the court like a puppet, a powerless figure subjected to Murray’s talent and imagination. Forehand drop shots brought Raonic to the net, disrupting his deep baseline rhythm, and lobs were used to send him scrambling back again. As the match went on, Raonic went for broke and committed six double faults and numerous forehand mistakes.
Murray’s pin-point backhand down the line was utilised perfectly in the second set, as well as the inside-out forehand, a shot Murray fans have craved to see more often. And then we saw those incredible passing shots, in both directions for both forehand and backhand, which left the Arthur Ashe crowd stunned on countless occasions. Unforced errors seemed a distant memory at times, putting Raonic under all sorts of pressure, and the serve was remarkably consistent; 88% of first serve points were won and precisely zero break points were even offered.
There was a point during the third set when Raonic had a chink of light at 0-30, but four first serves from Murray slammed the door shut. In previous years, Murray would have been conceding break points, buckling under the pressure and getting irritated with himself. True, Raonic needs to improve his returns if he is to make an imprint at the highest level (his reactions are slow and his swing somewhat exaggerated), but when Murray serves at 65% or above, there is usually only one outcome.
Murray’s performance has come at the perfect time as he prepares to take on another big server in Marin Cilic, who overcame another young rising star in Martin Klizan and defeated Murray in the 2009 quarter finals. But that was a different Murray to now, and if he can replicate anywhere near today’s performance, a semi-final date with either Berdych or Federer will be secure.
Remaining fourth round predictions:
Tipsarevic vs Kohlschreiber: Tipsarevic in 5 sets
Richard Gasquet vs David Ferrer: Ferrer in 5 sets
Juan Martin del Potro vs Andy Roddick: del Potro in 4 sets
Stanislas Wawrinka vs Novak Djokovic: Djokovic in 3 sets