In a battle of the big servers, Miami Open champion John Isner takes on 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic for a place in the last four at the All England Club. Isner had never previously been beyond the third round at Wimbledon, but has added another achievement to what is surely the best season of his career so far. But he faces an opponent with weapons as big of his own in Raonic, who has no shortage of grass court pedigree. Who will come out on top?
Isner and Raonic have met four times so far in their careers in a head-to-head the American leads 3-1. Their first clash came on home soil for Raonic when they faced off in the Canadian Open quarterfinals in 2012. But despite the backing of the crowd, Raonic was beaten 6-7 4-6. Isner won again a year later in Cincinnati, beating Raonic 7-6 6-4. He then triumphed in a three-set thriller in Miami in 2015 6-7 7-6 7-6. But Raonic had some revenge in 2016 in Cincinnati, winning 7-6 7-6.
Path to the quarterfinals
Isner opened his Championships with a fairly comfortable 6-2 7-6 7-5 win over German qualifier Yannick Maden. In his second round match he stormed to a two-set lead against Belgian Ruben Bemelmans only to be pegged back. A loss of composure and an overnight break followed, but Isner hung tough on the restart to win through 6-1 6-4 6-7 6-7 7-5. He then brushed aside Radu Albot 6-3 6-3 6-4 before defeating Greek young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4 7-6 7-6.
Raonic’s tournament began against British wildcard Liam Broady. After a tight opening set, the 13th seed ran away with the victory, winning 7-5 6-0 6-1. He backed that up by overcoming John Millman in the second round 7-6 7-6 7-6 to set up a clash with Dennis Novak. They split the first two sets, but after Raonic broke late in the third to win it, Novak’s challenge faded leaving the Canadian to advance a 7-6 4-6 7-5 6-2 winner. He then beat Mackenzie McDonald 6-3 6-4 6-7 6-2 in the fourth round.
How do they match up?
Isner and Raonic are both amongst the biggest servers in the game and they rely on their power when stepping to the line to get them the majority of their wins on Tour. The Canadian has already struck 115 aces so far at Wimbledon, compared with just 21 double faults. Isner’s numbers on his own deal are similarly impressive, with the American having landed 135 aces, including an astonishing 64 against Bemelmans. He is also yet to be broken, whilst the Canadian’s serve has fallen just four times.
But as well as they serve, they are amongst the least effective returners in the game. Although Raonic did manage to break Broady seven times in the first round, that was as much the result of the Briton’s mental collapse as Raonic’s returning. Isner has broken 12 times, an unusually high number for the American, but of his opponents so far only Tsitsipas has had a notable serve, and Isner broke him only once. Expect break points to be vanishingly rare then, if any appear at all.
This match could well prove something of a marathon thanks to the pair’s huge serves and comparatively weak returns. But Raonic does have the greater grass court pedigree of the two and a much better record in best-of-five matches than the American. One suspects that there is a reason this is Isner’s first Wimbledon quarterfinal and just his second ever at a Major. The Canadian, meanwhile, has made the last eight or better at Wimbledon three years in a row. Raonic in four.