After an injury riddled beginning to his 2018 campaign, Milos Raonic appears to finally be getting on track. A right knee injury had forced him to miss most of the clay court season, including the French Open. But now seemingly fully fit, Raonic has reached the Stuttgart semifinals, the second time he has made the last four this year. His opponent is Frenchman and defending champion Lucas Pouille, who is having another consistent year on the Tour.
Raonic and Pouille have met twice in their careers, with both matches contested in January of 2016. Raonic made quick work of Pouille on both occasions. The first matchup came in Brisbane with Raonic easing past Pouille 6-4 6-1 in the quarterfinals. They met again just a few weeks later in the first round at the Australian Open where Raonic triumphed 6-1 6-4 6-4. Though Pouille has improved since then, in the past he clearly had no answers for Raonic’s firepower.
Path to the semifinals
So far Raonic has served impeccably. He began his tournament with a 7-6 6-2 win against Mirza Basic of Bosnia. He followed that by hammering down 19 aces in his second match in which he easily dispatched Marton Fucsovics 6-2 6-4. While that result was perhaps to be expected, Raonic then impressively upset the third seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets in the quarterfinals 7-6 7-6, with the Canadian dominating both tiebreaks.
Pouille’s path to the semifinals has been rather less serene, despite arguably facing lesser competition than Raonic. He made quick work of the teenager Rudolf Molleker 6-3 6-4, but struggled in his quarterfinal match against Denis Istomin. Pouille won the first set 6-4 but dropped the second set in a tiebreak. The Frenchman, however, regained control of the match in the final set by breaking in the fourth game and managed to close out the win.
How do they match up?
Pouille is the higher ranked player due to his consistent results this year. Consistency is a good word to summarise Pouille’s game. He does everything well, but perhaps lacks the outstanding weapons to overpower a player like Raonic. However, he does use his forehand to good effect, particularly on faster surfaces and also volleys very well, an invaluable skill for any player on grass courts. But his backhand is more functional than dangerous.
When healthy, Raonic has a huge forehand and serve that can give any opponent a hard time on any surface. But he is particularly dangerous on a grass court with the Canadian making his only Major final on the surface at Wimbledon in 2016 (lost to Murray). Pouille has the edge in terms of mobility, but that advantage is not as great as the one held by Raonic in terms of power, particularly when stepping to the line.
Raonic appears to be fully healthy for possibly the first time all year. And when he is healthy, he is surely a top ten talent. The grass courts in Stuttgart also play very quickly, which will give Raonic, with his high-powered game, even more of an edge and should also prevent Pouille from turning this into a physical battle. In a match likely to be long on aces and short on extended rallies, expect history to repeat itself and for Raonic to take this one in straight sets.