Andy Murray may lead an 8-3 head-to-head record with Milos Raonic, but the latter has not beaten him since 2014. Below, I analyse, preview and predict the result of the first ATP World Tour Finals semifinal, which begins at 2pm local time.
The 2016 ATP World Tour Finals have been missing a spark.
No, let’s amend that. These ATP World Tour Finals have been missing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The group stage has not lacked excitement, by any means. Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori’s marathon 3 hour 20 minute clash featured thrills, spills and plot twists, while Novak Djokovic’s closely-fought duel with Milos Raonic had the crowd roaring. The fact that these four men round out the semifinal line-up is no coincidence.
The O2 Arena has been living up to expectations in all its light-flashing, smoke-blowing, music-blaring glory, and the atmosphere is has been pretty fantastic. But all the same, the week thus far has been a window on a world that we will hopefully never have to see again: the ‘best’ eight with two all-time greats absent, but with the next generation yet to break through. Ultimately, the Battle For Number One (which has now gone from fresh to boring to annoying, for me personally) has been used as a fallback plan to drum up tension in the absence of the stiff competition and intrigue provided by Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
The John McEnroe group – featuring Murray, US Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Croatia’s Marin Cilic – was supposed to be the toughest bunch by some distance. But the latter trio ended up doing something that could decide the outcome of this tournament. The further along things progressed (almost), the less they tested Andy Murray. When Cilic opened against the Brit on Monday, the duo engaged in some testing baseline rallies early on,. Nevertheless, the towering Croat – who beat the 29-year-old in the Cincinnati Masters final – did not even tested the top seed in the big moments. Following the easy 6-3 6-2 victory, Murray experienced much more of a battle against Kei Nishikori. But length and quality are two different things, and the final set-and-a-half of their marathon was a test of who could spray the least errors. By the time he got to Stan Wawrinka, Murray needed a single set to top the John McEnroe group – and he faced minimal resistance. Fittingly ending his campaign on a disastrous forehand shank, Stan was anything but the Man as he wilted to a poor 6-4 6-2 loss.
Heading into the ATP World Tour Finals, Andy Murray had not survived the group stage since 2013, and had not beaten a top five opponent since the beginning of June. Now, he has qualified for the semifinals with a perfect 3-0 record, whilst taking down two players from the aforementioned category. He may not have faced a great deal of world class tennis, but Murray is now warmed up and confident. With a passionate crowd behind him, the Olympic gold medallist might just be about to pull off a 12th title of the year in London.
This is why it is difficult to see Milos Raonic – who fell to the Brit in straight sets in the Wimbledon final – a likely winner against Murray this time around. The Canadian’s latest performance was a solid one, as he ended Dominic Thiem’s jam-packed season with a 7-6(5) triumph – his serve never getting broken. He also produced some stunning, dominant power tennis during his 7-6(6) 7-6(5) nail-biter with Novak Djokovic – in which a faulty line call could have been all that prevented him from taking the first set. And all this came after his opening dismissal of Gael Monfils, in which the big-serving 25-year-old did not face a single break point against the athletic Frenchman.
Does Raonic have a shot at upsetting Andy Murray? He has several. The zoning Canadian was on fire in taking two of the first three sets against the Brit in the Australian Open semifinals, sheerly outplaying the higher-ranked man. To this day, I remain convinced that London’s no. 4 seed would have notched his maiden win over the Brit had injury struck during set number four. As it happened, Raonic went down in five.
But there are some important facts to consider. The maiden Tour Finals semifinalist may have forced Murray down the wire at the Queen’s Club in June – but he did not close out the victory. And it was a victory that was on his racquet. The world no. 4 bottled in front of a British crowd, on the biggest stage of the event.
Prior to his rather limp SW19 loss to the eventual champion, Raonic had come back from the virtual dead to upend Roger Federer in the most shocking result of the fortnight. If he could go from his untouchable status during the final set of that clash to the man who did not take a set in the final, how much more can he go from a convincing defeat of the world no. 9 to a defeat at the hands of the world no. 1?
And, in the most recent result to speak against him, there is his round robin result against Novak Djokovic. No longer the invincible force he was for much of this season, the Serb gave his opponent some chances in key stages of their clash. Tossing in some errors in the first breaker, the no. 2 seed surrendered serve twice in the second set. But when the match was at its most tense, most demanding and most crucial points, it was the world no. 4 who cracked. Down 10-9 in the opening tiebreak, Raonic let it go on a double fault.
Could Saturday be close? Of course it could. And Milos Raonic – who had coaching consultant John McEnroe among his entourage on Thursday – could close out a victory. Nevertheless, in the current situation, with so much on the line, I am not going to bet against the man on a 22 match winning streak.
PREDICTION: Murray in three sets.
(Read the Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori semifinal preview HERE!)
Thanks for reading! What do you think of the prediction? Let me know in the comments section!