After edging out Nick Kyrgios in an edge of your seat semifinal battle, newly crowned world #1 Roger Federer will look to put the cherry on top of what has been a fine week with a title in Stuttgart. Across the net from him will be a familiar foe Milos Raonic, with the former world #3 looking for his first title since Brisbane in 2016 and hoping to snap a five-match losing streak in finals. But who will come out on top?
Federer and Raonic are no strangers to each other, particularly on grass. Federer leads Raonic 10-3 in their head-to-head meetings, with the pair having met at Wimbledon three times since 2014. Federer won the first of those meetings in the semifinals routinely 6-4 6-4 6-4. In 2016, Raonic made it past an ailing Federer in the semifinals to reach his first Grand Slam final, 6-3 6-7 4-6 7-5 6-3. Federer then decided to take the rest of the year off to return to full health.
That decision paid off with Federer returning to the summit of the game and he has won three Slams already since his comeback began. He defeated Raonic en route to the second of them at Wimbledon last year. The Swiss hit Raonic off the court easily in a 6-4 6-2 7-6 win. Raonic may well be able to draw on some good memories of playing Federer, but it is the 20-time Major champion that has the deeper reserves in that department.
Path to the final
Raonic has so far been untroubled in large part thanks to impeccable serving. Indeed, he has not dropped a set through his four matches. He opened his tournament with a 7-6 6-2 victory against Mirza Basic and a solid 6-2 6-4 defeat of Marton Fucsovics. He then upset third seed Tomas Berdych in two tiebreaks, which set the stage for a semifinal clash with defending champion Lucas Pouille. In a match fairly free of drama Raonic did not drop serve in defeating Pouille 6-4 7-6.
Federer has had a more turbulent path to his final berth. He lost the first set of his opening match against Mischa Zverev. Federer found his rhythm and eventually triumphed 3-6 6-4 6-2. He maintained his level to sweep aside Guido Pella 6-4 6-4. That set up a semifinal with Nick Kyrgios. It was the Australian who took the first set, winning it in a tiebreak. But Federer raised his level to turn the match around, ultimately prevailing 6-7 6-2 7-6 in another thrilling contest between the two.
How do they match up?
Raonic has no shortage of talent and one of the best serve and forehand combinations on Tour. He has worked extensively on his backhand in the last few years, turning it from a significant weakness in his game to a shot that is at least functional. Quick surfaces greatly benefit Raonic’s power game, particularly grass courts which are so often rewarding to big servers like the Canadian.
Quick courts also help stop his opponents exploiting his weaknesses, namely his movement and tame backhand. Raonic has not dropped serve in the tournament and he will need to continue to serve that well and impose his will by moving Federer side to side from the baseline using his forehand. But that is easier said than done, with Federer still an excellent mover and with no shortage of firepower himself.
As much as grass benefits Raonic’s game, it also benefits Federer’s. Raonic has served incredibly well, but Federer has looked just as impressive from the line. Federer lost only 13 points on his serve in defeating Kyrgios. If Federer can serve that well tomorrow, it will neutralise the biggest advantage Raonic has had over his opponents this tournament thus far. That should be enough for Federer to win through in straight sets, although at least one tiebreak seems likely.