Milos Raonic advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 final in four and a half years on Friday with a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The unseeded Canadian won 90 per cent of first-serve points (35/39) to reach his fourth Masters 1000 championship match (0-3) after one hour and 37 minutes. Raonic is through to his first final at the level since his runner-up finish to Novak Djokovic at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open final in Indian Wells.
“It would be incredible [to win an ATP Masters 1000 title]. Just generally as part of my career, it’s not just the past six months coming back [and] playing. Just with everything else, I want to go to heights I haven’t achieved yet and this is a part of it,” said Raonic. “This is what I’ve worked hard for with very clear, specific goals and I hope that I can get that step closer and maybe make a difference tomorrow.”
In January, Raonic did not face a break point to defeat Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(2) in his first ATP Head2Head contest against the Greek. After picking up his second win in as many matches against the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion, Raonic has won each of his 28 service games against Tsitsipas and faced only one break point.
Since reaching a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on 21 November 2016, Raonic has consistently struggled with injuries. Last year, the Canadian withdrew from 10 events due to injury. But now, after the five-month suspension of the ATP Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a fresh Raonic has returned to peak form.
“I’m feeling good about my tennis,” said Raonic. “I took the time to train, to try to do things right, to get myself to a stage I haven’t been before with my tennis, with my health. I hope it can keep paying off for me because I’ve put in the work and let’s see what the future holds.”
Prior to his victory against fourth seed Tsitsipas, Raonic beat Sam Querrey, Daniel Evans, two-time champion Andy Murray and Filip Krajinovic to reach the semi-finals. In his quarter-final against Krajinovic the Canadian was forced to save match point at 4-5, 30/40, in the deciding set.
Raonic will meet World No. 1 Djokovic or Roberto Bautista Agut for the title. The eight-time ATP Tour titlist owns a 0-10 ATP Head2Head record against Djokovic and is unbeaten in five ATP Head2Head encounters against Bautista Agut.
“For me I’ve got to find a way to first ball,” said Raonic. “I put a lot of pressure on guys with my serve. I’ve got to make them play, I’ve got to make them think on their serve. If I’m giving too many free things away, it makes my service game harder and also takes a lot of pressure that I build up with my service games off of them.”
In a first set which featured only one break point, Raonic ran around his backhand at 5-6, 30/40, to save set point with a series of powerful forehands. In the tie-break, the Canadian recovered from a mini-break down and hit back-to-back forehand winners at 5/5 to clinch the first set.
“[The set point] was tough. It was a long point, I didn’t get the free point on the serve. I had to play it out, but I played it right and I stuck to my intentions the whole way through and it paid off for me. I stuck to my game and thankfully things came together.”
Raonic continued to use his forehand to break through the defence of Tsitsipas early in the second set and, on his first break point at 2-1, the World No. 30 became the first player to break Tsitsipas’ serve this week with a low backhand passing shot. Raonic held his advantage and served out the match to love, claiming victory with a strong serve into his opponent’s backhand.
During the ATP Tour suspension, Raonic worked hard to return to peak fitness and elevate his game to new heights. The 29-year-old began his preparations for the resumption of the ATP Tour in March, completing three six-week training blocks across 22 weeks.
“We did a pre-season for six weeks of training and I did three blocks of that,” said Raonic. “I did one right after we got shut down on March 11 or 12. I took 10 days off, started around the 24th… I did six weeks, took two weeks off, another six weeks, took two weeks off, and another six weeks leading up to here.”