The BNP Paribas Open announced Monday that Rafael Nadal will headline a Tie Break Tens event ahead of the main Indian Wells Masters 1000 / Premier Mandatory tournament.
It’s a winner-take-all event, with $150,000 US going to the winner.
Also confirmed are Dominic Thiem, Gaël Monfils and Milos Raonic. Two spots remain in the six-man field.
(We say “six-man field”, of course, because it’s a men-only event).
The Eisenhower Cup
It will be called the “Eisenhower Cup presented by Masimo”, and held on Tuesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. during the Indian Wells qualifying. They’ll use fabulous Stadium 2 to play it.
The format is two pools of three players, playing a first-to-10 match tiebreak. The winners of the two pools will square off in the final.
It’s a great addition to the first couple of days of the event.
The tickets, which go on sale Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST on the BNP Paribas Open website, will be $25. Proceeds from the event will go to four local charities: Masimo’s Patient Safety Movement, Eisenhower Health, Bighorn Golf Club Charities; and Family YMCA of the Desert.
Who will the final two be? Do you think they can convince Djokovic, Federer or del Potro to sign on? Tune in.
Speaking of Tie Break Tens, wasn’t there supposed to be a similar event at the Australian Open during the qualifying week? Whatever happened with that? It just … disappeared.
Top singles stars often play doubles at the BNP Paribas Open, a popular choice in the first event of a series, with a climate or surface change to adjust to.
There’s a full 32-team doubles field at Indian Wells. And with 32 seeds with first-round byes, most of the singles players don’t start until later in the week – some as late as the first weekend.
Andy Murray played the desert doubles 11 straight times between 2007 and 2017.
The 2019 lineup is no different. In fact, it might be one of the more interesting lineups already – if all the players who’ve committed follow through.
The entry deadline isn’t until Monday. And there are two wild cards to be distributed. So there will be more additions.
But already, you know the team of Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini will pack Stadium 2, where many of the high-profile doubles teams ply their trade.
Still not on board is Rafael Nadal, who has played it 11 times – four of those with Marc Lopez, with titles in 2010 and 2012.
If he plays, it won’t be with Lopez, who already is entered with Feliciano Lopez.
Roger Federer? He also has played it 11 times, going back to 2000. Most recently, he did countryman Michel Lammer a solid and paired up with him for a first-round loss in 2015. That was actually the last time Federer played doubles in an ATP Tour event.
The Swiss (who reached the singles final in 2018) reached the final in 2002 with Max Mirnyi. He also reached final in 2011 and the semis in 2014 with Stan Wawrinka.
Let’s call that possibility … remote. The last time Federer played any (non Hopman Cup mixed) doubles was a loss in a Davis Cup relegation tie against the Netherlands in Sept. 2015, with Marco Chiudinelli.
(Add Gaël Monfils and Adrian Mannarino to this list, as the deadline is now past. But note that the Zverevs, Ryan Harrison-Kei Nishikori and Tiafoe-Paes are not yet in, with only 21 teams claiming direct entry).
Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini
Fognini is an accomplished doubles player, in the top 10 just a few years ago.
Djokovic has played just once this year, reaching the Doha semifinals with brother Marko and losing a 15-13 match tiebreak to eventual champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and David Goffin.
He has played doubles at Indian Wells five times before – most recently in 2017, when he and countryman Viktor Troicki upset top seeds Herbert and Nicolas Mahut before losing in the quarterfinals
Juan Martin del Potro and Maximo Gonzalez
Del Potro, who plans to finally start his 2019 season next week in Delray Beach, is teaming up with a countryman who is a top-40 doubles player (and at a career-high ranking).
He’s also defending his singles title – and 1,000 ranking points.
The two have played together occasionally – notably at the Rio Olympics, where they lost in three sets to gold-medalists Nadal and Lopez.
Like Djokovic, del Potro also has played the doubles at Indian Wells five previous times – with several partners: David Nalbandian, Marin Cilic, Leonardo Mayer, Leander Paes and in 2018, Grigor Dimitrov.
The match with Cilic in 2014 was a notable one, because del Potro was pretty much hitting all one-handed backhands. He was testing out his wrist to see if it could hold up in singles. But he ended up withdrawing from the singles and was out the rest of the season.
Milos Raonic – Jérémy Chardy
Raonic played doubles in a similar situation in Brisbane – to open the new season. He and Robert Lindstedt beat the Bryan brothers in their first match back together before losing in the quarterfinals.
The Canadian played the Indian Wells doubles six straight years from 2011 to 2016 (with Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson, Lopez again, Ernests Gulbis – they defeated Djokovic and Krajinovic before losing to Federer and Wawrinka), Aisam Qureshi and John Isner).
He and Chardy have never played together.
Mischa and Alexander Zverev
This one is up in the air, given both Zverevs seem not to be 100 per cent. Zverev has played just two Davis Cup matches against Hungary since the Australian Open. And Mischa has played just one match this year – a first-round loss to young Aussie Alexei Popyrin in Melbourne.
Both are entered in singles – and together in doubles – in 10 days at the Acapulco tournament.
This would be the third straight year the brother team up in the desert. They also have entered Miami.
Frances Tiafoe / Leander Paes
Tiafoe plays doubles somewhat regularly (10 tournaments in 2018), without any notable success although he and Denis Kudla reached the semifinals in D.C. last summer.
This will be the 20th appearance at this event for Paes, going all the way back to 1996.
Dominic Thiem / Steve Johnson
Thiem was held back a bit by illness and was late getting down to South America for his fave Golden Swing.
But it seems he’s getting right back to his double-time schedule.
The Austrian is in the doubles semi in Buenos Aires this week with his friend Diego Schwartzman. It’s his first doubles event of the season; he played eight in 2018 and lost in the first round of Indian Wells with Philipp Petzschner.
The pair played twice last year, in Rome on Clay and in Halle on grass. They won a tight one to the Zverev brothers in Rome before going down to Pavic and Marach, 16-14 in the match tiebreak. They’re also signed on for Miami.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Wesley Koolhof
Seems an odd pairing, but perhaps the two have some history together.
At a career-best No. 40 this week, Koolhof played the Australian swing with regular partner Marcus Daniell, and had a wild card into Rotterdam with Jürgen Melzer this week.
Tsitsipas played some mixed doubles with countrywoman Maria Sakkari at Hopman Cup, but nothing else so far this season.
He played just about every week though 2017, when he was on the Challenger circuit and in 12 events (11 at the ATP level) in 2018, winning just four matches.
2018 doubles teams
Roberto Bautista-Agut/David Ferrer
John Isner / Jack Sock
Juan Martin del Potro / Grigor Dimitrov
Gilles Muller / Sam Querrey
Dominic Thiem / Philipp Petzschner (WC)
Alexander Zverev / Mischa Zverev
Philipp Kohlschreiber / Lucas Pouille
Plus Diego Schwartzman … Pablo Carreño Busta … Ryan Harrison … Fabio Fognini … Steve Johnson … Fernando Verdasco and Albert Ramos-Viñolas ….
2017 doubles teams
John Isner / Jack Sock
Novak Djokovic / Viktor Troicki
Rafael Nadal / Bernard Tomic (that was an … epic meetup)
Zverev / Zverev
Muller / Querrey
Andy Murray / Dan Evans
del Potro / Paes (WC)
Dimitrov / Stan Wawrinka
Marin Cilic / Nikola Mektic
Steve Johnson / Vasek Pospisil
Roberto Bautista Agut / Fernando Verdasco
Tomas Berdych / Philipp Petzschner
Nick Kyrgios / Nenad Zimonjic (WC)
MELBOURNE, Australia – Alexander Zverev and Milos Raonic have both been No. 3 in the world.
But the seven-years-younger German already has more career titles. And he’s currently ranked 13 spots above the 28-year-old Canadian.
But here’s the thing.
Raonic has been in a Wimbledon final. And but for a truly poorly-timed adductor injury in Melbourne in 2016, he might well have been in the Australian Open final that year as well. He’s made five other Slam quarterfinals, and Wimbledon semi in 2014.
So on resumé, in these supremely significant circumstances, he probably shouldn’t be the underdog against Zverev. The 21-year-old German still battles to be considered a Grand Slam contender, despite the brilliance of his early career.
And so it was on Monday at the Australian Open, when form held
For two sets, Zverev was tight as a drum. His second serve failed him. But even Zverev made it competitive in the third set, it was too far gone. And in unexpectedly routine fashion, Raonic is into another Australian Open quarter final after a 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory he wrapped up in less than two hours.
“I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible. Yeah, I mean, it’s just tough to name on one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that,” said Zverev, whose racket destruction at 1-6, 1-4 was arguably the most havoc he created all day.
Zverev remains stuck at one career Grand Slam quarterfinal (or better) appearance – last year at the French Open.
For Raonic, it’s No. 9.
From a tight quarterfinal loss to Daniil Medvedev in his season opening tournament in Brisbane a few weeks ago, Raonic came into Melbourne with a fresh mindset.
“I think it was all really emotional and mental. I believe I had eight break chances in those first two sets against (Medvedev). So I had more than enough opportunities to make the most of it. … But then I got a little bit too down on myself, and I think that sort of shined a light on something that I really have to do differently at this event,” Raonic said.
“And I think I have worked on that, and I think I have also had to play against top players where I couldn’t afford to be undisciplined in that regard.”
Tough draw turns into good draw
After coming up against the dangerous Nick Kyrgios in the first round, and the dangerous Stan Wawrinka in the second round, Raonic got a (relative) breather against the unseeded Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Drawing Zverev, when the possibilities for the No. 16 seed in the round of 16 were Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Zverev, also qualifies as a break.
So does getting No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman is his first Slam quarterfinal since the 2016 US Open.
For Pouille, just getting there after five first-round losses in his first five trips to Melbourne is a victory. One of those defeats, in 2016, was inflicted upon him by Raonic,.
The Canadian is 3-0 in his career against the Frenchman. And that includes two victories in Australia.
It’s hard to accurately convey how devastated Raonic was after that Murray match, especially compared to his generally composed demeanour in defeat.
Even his hair was drooping.
Normally strong on eye contact, he looked down disconsolately between responses He avoided anyone’s direct gaze as he tried – only somewhat successfully – to keep his emotions in check.
“Probably the most heartbroken I felt on court, but that’s what it is,” he said then.
Through three years of trials and tribulations since then, the Canadian feels he’s a better player now. But he admits that many aspects of the competitive environment seemed easier in 2016.
Raonic played spectacular tennis that year. And it was crowd-pleasing tennis, too.
Your average tennis fan would posit that’s a factual impossibility. But the crowd reactions proved otherwise.
” I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years from 2014 to 2015 before that, and it was sort of — you don’t have to think about things as much. Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively,” he said.
“Now you always have to think about things a bit more because you’re always trying to search for that rhythm, that – sort of – what should you do. Whereas in those situations I don’t think I was really asking myself. I was trusting a lot more.”
We’ll see what the rest of the 2019 edition holds for him.
The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.
Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.
In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.
Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.
As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.
The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.
But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.
I’m very sorry to have to withdraw from my match this evening at the @RolexPMasters. This is not how I wanted to end my season, but I will be healthy soon to get in shape and be ready for the new year. Thank you all for your continued support this year. Hope to see you soon.
Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.
“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.
“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.
“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the courtknowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”
Djokovic returns to No. 1
With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.
That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.
He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.
Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.
Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.
Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.
There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.
So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.
Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.
In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.
So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.
TORONTO – As Milos Raonic prepares for a challenging first-round match against David Goffin of Belgium Monday night at his hometown Rogers Cup, word is out that his longtime agent at CAA was terminated last fall.
But Amit Naor remains the 27-year-old Canadian’s manager.
Rumours about this had been circulating for awhile. But Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal, an excellent journalist, was able to nail it all down in a story published Monday.
CAA made no official announcement of any kind about the matter.
Out of respect for the extensive work Kaplan did over a significant period of time in breaking this story, we won’t cut and paste it here. Click here to read the piece.
Here is a brief summary.
“Verbal, emotional and sexual harassment”
According to Kaplan, tennis manager Stephanie Lopez, now 28, went to the head of CAA’s tennis division, Steven Heumann last fall alleging that Naor, 51, subjected her to “verbal, emotional and sexual harassment”.
She is currently on leave.
Kaplan also reports that Lopez filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the spring. Lopez said she “endured multiple incidents of retaliation” from Heumann after the firing.
A CAA spokesperson told Kaplan their investigation determined there was no retaliation.
Kaplan reports that even after he was fired, Naor remained a manager for three CAA clients. And, in that capacity has communication with the company’s agents.
In addition to Raonic, those two other clients also are high profile: Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych.
As of last fall, on the official ATP list (likely not exhaustive or 100 per cent accurate), Thiem was listed officially as being represented by his coach, Gunther Bresnik although Kaplan reports that both Bresnik and Naor manage Thiem’s affairs.
Fadi Shalabi of Sporting Advantage Monaco was listed for Berdych. Naor is listed for Raonic.
Also on Naor’s client list as of last fall were Ernests Gulbis, Taylor Fritz, Bradley Klahn and Bernard Tomic.
Naor represented Jack Sock early in his career. He also handled Novak Djokovic’s business affairs very early on – a decade ago – before Djokovic signed with CAA and Naor also joined the company. Djokovic left CAA in 2012.
He also coached Marat Safin.
The Israel-born Naor played professionally from 1985 to 1991. He reached a career high in singles of No. 245 in 1987 although he won just three matches at the ATP Tour level. Five of his six ATP Tournament appearances came at the now-defunct ATP event in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The CAA tennis division is small, and Naor’s clients reportedly make up the bulk of its revenue.
Raonic’s countrywoman, Genie Bouchard, also joined the CAA stable this spring, after stints with Lagardère, IMG and other agencies. She is represented by Matthew Fawcett.
WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.
And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.
With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.
Actually, for the first time in three years.
(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).
Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic
The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.
That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.
The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.
Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.
The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.
Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.
Nadal on Centre every match
Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.
And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.
Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.
Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.
It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.
Mid-match relocation rare
Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.
(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.
There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).
Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.
Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.
Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows
So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.
Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.
Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)
After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2.
It was all a very delicate dance.
The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final.
Switching the matchups
Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.
It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.
Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.
The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.
Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.
In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.
The later the better for the Americas
The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.
1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.
So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.
But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.
They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.
On a day when three top players returning from long absences played quality tennis on the lawns of Stuttgart, Roger Federer came out a double winner.
Not only did he come out on top in his semifinal match against Nick Kyrgios, he also guaranteed a return to the top of the rankings on Monday.
Federer got past Nick Kyrgios 6-7 (2), 6-2, 7-6 (5) in Saturday’s second semifinal.
“I’m very happy, very relieved, I thought it was the tough match I expected. We’ve played so many breakers already I’ve stopped counting,” Federer said during his on-court interview. “I lost the last couple of matches with match points so (I thought) maybe it’s going to happen again.”
On Sunday, he will play former world No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic.
Raonic defeated No. 2 seed Lucas Pouille 6-4, 7-6 (3) in the first semifinal.
He’s No. 1
The victory ensured that Federer will return to the No. 1 ranking when the new list comes out on Monday.
But, if he wants to stay at the top of the heap for Wimbledon, he will have to win the tournament in Halle, Germany next week. Otherwise, Rafael Nadal will take it back.
(Federer will still be the No. 1 seed, because of the grass-court seeding formula used for the men).
“It was close. Could have gone either way, naturally. I’m happy I got it and got back to world No. 1 next Monday, so it’s very exciting. And I got another final, so it’s great news,” Federer said.
This is Federer’s first tournament since Miami in late March, where he lost to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round, in a third-set tiebreak. In his previous match, he had lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells final – in a third-set tiebreak.
For Kyrgios, Stuttgart was a return to singles for the first time since the Houston clay-court event in early April.
He played the doubles in Lyon, on clay, the week before the French Open and won it with his friend Jack Sock. He also played doubles at the Surbiton Challenger last week, losing in the first round.
Raonic back and looking for a title
For Raonic, Stuttgart is a return after he missed Rome and the French Open with a knee issue that began during the 2017 offseason. He spent six weeks unable to train full out, or even serve. And that compromised the beginning of his 2018 season.
His fitness went up several notches during the American hard-court swing through Indian Wells and Miami. He reached the semis in the desert and the quarters in Florida, losing to del Potro on both occasions.
But after giving a walkover to Marin Cilic in the third round in Monte Carlo, and losing to young countryman Denis Shapovalov in the same round in Madrid, the 27-year-old crossed off the clay-court season and began to prepare for the grass.
The Stuttgart final is his first since Istanbul a year ago, on clay.
He will be looking for his first title in 2 1/2 years – since Brisbane to start the 2016 season.
There, he defeated Federer in the final.
Federer is 10-3 against Raonic. He lost to him in five sets in the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals, and defeated him in straight sets in the 2017 quarterfinals.
It’s not a major shock, after Milos Raonic’s rather passive loss to Denis Shapovalov and his subsequent withdrawal from Rome.
But the 27-year-old Canadian announced on Twitter Sunday that he’s out of the French Open, too.
Raonic has been dealing with a meniscus issue since the off-season, when it was bad enough that he didn’t even get on court for six weeks.
After a slow start to the season, he came on at Indian Wells and Miami. But after two victories in Monte Carlo, he gave Marin Cilic a walkover.
And after upsetting No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid, he wasn’t nearly the same aggressive player in the 6-4, 6-4 loss to his young countryman, in their first-ever meeting.
It is with a heavy heart that I am withdrawing from @rolandgarros. I have many great memories there, but I know I need to continue working hard to put myself in the best position when I step out on the court. Thank you all for your support and see you soon on the grass.
Milos Raonic walked onto Arantxa Sanchez court to meet younger countryman Denis Shapovalov Thursday with a smile on his face.
He left it the same way, all smiles at the net, despite being upset by his teenaged rival 6-4, 6-4 in the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open.
“Definitely one of my best days on clay. To be on the court against such a legend for me, and for my country, it was an honour. It was fun. There was no pressure on me, obviously a lot more on him playing a young guy coming up. But, I mean, I just enjoyed myself,” Shapovalov told the media in Madrid.
“To beat him, it was a huge confidence booster for me. The match felt like everything kind of went great. I was guessing a lot the right way on his serves. When I got my racquet on them, usually they were falling in. There’s nothing to criticize about my performance today.”
The No. 1 Canadian didn’t play the best tennis of his life. But he didn’t play poorly.
The match was on the racket of his 19-year-old countryman. And Shapovalov proved himself more than up to the task on an occasion that not only had significance as an opportunity to get to another Masters 1000 quarterfinal, but to upset the conventional order of tennis in his country.
More balanced in his baseline attack than his more experienced rival, Shapovalov redlined his groundstrokes while minimizing his errors.
If that’s not a level of risk that will always work to his benefit, he made it work brilliantly on this day.
He hit 28 winners – 16 on the forehand, and made 17 unforced errors. Raonic was 14, and 14.
The 27-year-old had no answers from the back court. Worse, the depth of Shapovalov’s shots and Raonic’s inability to put enough serves into play made opportunities to come to the net on the return games rare.
On Shapovalov’s serve, Raonic opted to stand much further back against the lefty than he had in the previous round against No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Shapovalov was able to both outside corners, with angle. And more often than not, Raonic was left defending.
He earned just one break point on Shapovalov’s serve. On his own serve, Raonic was fatally passive.
Serve not effective enough
And even when he was able to get a big forehand swipe on the ball, Shapovalov returned it back at him just as hard. When he left one short, Shapovalov put it away. Raonic rarely used his slice backhand, and in the topspin backhand game, he is very much Shapovalov’s lesser.
Raonic served at an 87 percent first-serve clip in the first set. He had seven aces in his first three service games. And yet, he won a fairly pedestrian (for him) 63 per cent of those points in that set.
He probably didn’t use the body serve enough. And he rarely tried the serve-volley play.
Shapovalov put 16 returns in the court in the first set. He won 12 of those points (10 of the first 12).
In the second set, Raonic was far more effective on the first serve, losing just three of 18 points. But his percentage dropped. And of the 10 second serves he hit, he managed to win just four points.
Placid versus peppy
The body language, no surprise, was at opposite extremes between the two. Raonic was benign, never mad at himself, but also never pumping himself up. There was very little reaction at all throughout.
Shapovalov was so full of nervous energy as he bounded to the net for the coin toss, he practically ran into chair umpire Damian Steiner. But he made that energy work for him. He seemed always in control from beginning to end.
It was a performance that allowed the 19-year-old to jump up a big rung on the maturity ladder.
His elder was very gracious at the net, approaching with a smile and offering a hug. And as Raonic left the court, he nodded to Shapovalov’s mother and coach, Tessa, who was applauding him off the court.
Raonic couldn’t really be mad at himself for what he didn’t do. Although he might look at the match again and rue the things he might have done.
He took the net 11 times, but won just five of those points. Shapovalov went 6-for-7.
Edmund next up for Shapovalov
In the Madrid Open quarterfinals, Shapovalov will meet another unseeded young player in Kyle Edmund of Great Britain.
Unlike his meeting with Raonic, which was a first, Shapovalov may know Edmund better than any other player he’s faced in his brief time on Tour.
This will be the fifth meeting between them, the first on clay. In the space of less than a year, between the first round of Davis Cup in 2017 and Brisbane to start this season, they played four matches.
Only two were completed. Shapovalov defeated Edmund 6-4 in the third set last summer at Queen’s Club, on grass. Edmund returned the favour in Brisbane, beating Shapovalov 6-4 in the third.
In the third round of the US Open last September, Edmund retired after the first game of the fourth set with a back issue.
Fifteen months later, Shapovalov no longer seems overwhelmed or unprepared for anything.
He’ll jump to about No. 34 in the rankings with the win, virtually guaranteeing himself a seed in Paris. If he can beat Edmund, he would jump into the top 30.
Meanwhile, Edmund will make his top-20 debut on Monday. With his quarterfinal effort, he has exactly the same number of ranking points – 1,905 – as Novak Djokovic, the player he upset in the second round in Madrid. With a win, he could jump to No. 16.
It’s been a good draw for Shapovalov, who has yet to face a seed. He defeated Benoit Paire, who had already eliminated No. 15 Lucas Pouille. And then Raonic, who had dispatched No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov. And now, Edmund, who took care of Djokovic.
Edmund defeated No. 8 seed David Goffin 6-2, 6-3 in the third round. to reach the clash with the Canadian.