Milos Raonic, one of the world’s best servers, has been plagued by injuries recently, but thanks to a history of good grass court performances the world #32 was seeded 13th at this year’s Championships. Courtesy of a second round upset, Raonic faces off against world #171 Dennis Novak in the third round in what looks a mismatch on paper. Novak, however, impressed in his second round defeat of Lucas Pouille, and will be eager to down another seed. Who will win?
The career’s of these two players have taken fairly different trajectories, and as a result this will be the first time they have ever faced off against one another. Novak’s Grand Slam career has been played mostly in the qualifying rounds, and this year’s Australian Open was the first time he made the main draw of a major event. He was promptly knocked out in the first round, making this third round appearance by some distance his best effort at a Grand Slam.
Raonic, in contrast, is a perennial Grand Slam threat, though he is still chasing that elusive maiden victory. At Wimbledon alone he has made a quarterfinal, a semifinal and a final all within the last four years, and only rarely falls before the second week at a Major. But his two wins so far at the Championships are the only victories he's picked up at the Grand Slams since reaching the quarterfinals at the All England Club last year (lost to Federer).
Path to the third round
Raonic’s first round was a straightforward victory against wild card Liam Broady, who he defeated 7-5 6-0 6-1. In the second round, however, he faced John Millman, against whom he engaged in a two and a half hour serve-off. Remarkably, Raonic won all three sets to the exact same scoreline; 7-6, with a 7-4 win in the tiebreak. Both players were predictably dominant on serve, with only six break points coming throughout the entire match up, and each player being broken just once.
Novak won easily in the first round against world #110 Peter Polansky, claiming his first ever Grand Slam match win 6-2 6-3 7-6. The second round was a little more difficult. He faced Frenchman and number 17 seed Lucas Pouille, and after winning the first two sets and holding match points in the third, seemed destined to be knocked out of the event when the match headed to a fifth. But Novak had other ideas and held on for an impressive 6-4 6-2 6-7 3-6 6-2 win.
How do they match up?
There’s one sure fire way to beat Raonic. Master his serve and he has little by way of a plan b. Unfortunately, when he consistently throws down howitzers, that’s easier said than done. Novak has a solid enough serve, but against Raonic, very rarely can players afford to be broken, as they are unlikely to get any of those games back. Novak’s best hope might be for the right shoulder injury which hampered Raonic earlier this season to flare up, but he has looked fit and firing so far.
Barring something extraordinary happening, it’s very difficult to see Novak taking a set of Raonic. The Canadian has generally been able to see off the lower ranked players with relative ease as a result of his ability to hold serve with his eyes closed, even if he has struggled to make much of a dent against the very best. If Novak is to steal a set there’s a good chance it will be in a tiebreaker, but even that seems unlikely. Expect Raonic to win in three.