In a battle of the former world #3’s, Stan Wawrinka, the champion at the US Open two years ago, takes on top-ranked Canadian Milos Raonic. Neither man was in New York last year, with injuries forcing both to suspend their seasons early. As a result, both will know that a good run at the year’s final Major could give their ranking a real boost. But will it be Wawrinka that reaches the second week or will Raonic halt his charge?
Wawrinka and Raonic have met five times and Wawrinka has had the better of it, winning four of those matches. That included victory in their first match which came six years ago in Cincinnati in the quarterfinals, with Wawrinka rallying from a set down to win 2-6 7-6 6-4. He beat him again in 2013 in Shanghai, 7-6 6-4, in Monaco in 2014, 7-6 6-2, and in 2015 in Rotterdam, 7-6 7-6. But in their most recent meeting, in 2016 at the Australian Open, Raonic won 6-4 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-3.
Path to the third round
Wawrinka finally built some good form on the hard courts of North America after a season of struggle, reaching the third round in Toronto and the quarterfinals in Cincinnati. He lost to Nadal and Federer respectively, but performed well. And he carried on his good form in the first round in New York, upsetting eighth seed Grigor Dimitrov for the second Slam running. He then edged out the French qualifier Ugo Humbert in four, 7-6 4-6 6-3 7-5.
Raonic, the 25th seed, had been due to begin his US Open against Jared Donaldson, but the American was forced to withdraw from the tournament. In his place, Raonic faced the qualifier Carlos Berlocq and the Canadian overcame a mid-match loss of focus to advance a 7-6 6-4 1-6 6-3 winner. That victory set up a clash with the Frenchman Gilles Simon, once ranked as high as 6th in the world. But Simon offered little resistance as Raonic won through 6-3 6-4 6-4.
How do they match up?
Expect more than a few winners to be hit in this one. Both Wawrinka and Raonic boast considerable firepower and both typically look to play aggressively from the outset. Against Humbert, Wawrinka showed his devastating power in full, hammering 43 winners past the Frenchman. But, he also made 57 unforced errors and he will need to tighten up against Raonic. He will also want to up his first serve percentage, which was a disappointing 51%.
That is not because of Raonic’s quality when returning which is somewhat lacking. But there are few servers better than the Canadian. He served 17 aces against Simon and hit one serve at a fearsome 142 mph, and in the second round his average first serve speed of 124 mph was 12 mph faster than Wawrinka’s. Nor is he without weapons off the ground, with his forehand always dangerous. But Wawrinka will be rewarded if he can regularly find the Raonic backhand.
So far, both men have delivered one excellent performance and one that falls considerably short of the high standard they have set for themselves over the course of their careers. That gives little indication of the outcome of this match. But what should count in Wawrinka’s favour is the relatively slow court speed. That will give both men more time on the ball and Wawrinka can do more with that time than Raonic. That should give him enough of an edge to take this one in four tight sets.