The Australian Open Final featured Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, where Djokovic reminded everyone why he is ranked number one in the world. The Djoker walked over Murray in straight sets to claim his sixth Australian Open. However a non-finalist, Milos Raonic, sure left his impact on the first ATP Major of the year. Raonic had an incredibly successful tournament, making a run all the way to the semi-finals, where he bowed out to Murray in a tough five-set match.
This has to be seen as an improvement for the young Raonic, who had never got past three sets in an ATP Major against a member of the Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal). On top of that Murray is currently playing some of the best tennis of his career, and Raonic was able to push Murray to the edge. This improvement has not come overnight, and the tennis community has just begun to see the evolution of Raonic’s game.
Prior to this year’s Australian Open, Raonic had competed in the Brisbane International as a tuneup for the Australian Open. Raonic looked brilliant in the tournament and capped it off by beating Roger Federer in straight sets. This was Raonic’s second ever victory against the mighty Federer in 11 matches. Consequently, there was a lot of attention turned towards Raonic to see if he could take this success and translate it to the year’s first Major.
Raonic clearly did just that with his great run to the semi-finals, but it was how he did it that was most impressive. Raonic has been criticized for not having much of a return game. Raised in Brampton, Ontario, Raonic is a dominant force on serve and had won an astounding 81 per cent of points on first serve in 2015, which was second best on the entire ATP Tour. While on the return, Raonic only won 12 per cent of his return points, which landed him in a much less impressive 48th place on the ATP Tour. In the Australian Open this year however we saw a much more competitive Raonic on the return.
Raonic won 35 per cent of his return points, which was just south of triple to his 2015 total. Not many analysts, statisticians and tennis gurus could have seen such an evolution coming. Raonic has made his game much sounder and he has developed new elements into his game. Once a one-dimensional power player, he has developed some finesse and structure and now can go deeper into rallies and has become a much better player at the net and on the return.
These statistics are not skewed by Raonic’s competition either. He had to face four Top 25 competitors, which included Gael Monfils, Viktor Troicki, Stan Wawrinka and obviously Andy Murray. The win over Wawrinka was particularly spectacular due to how it played out. Wawrinka, ranked fourth in the world, was picked to walk over Raonic, yet the Canadian came out and claimed the first two sets. It looked like he might even take Wawrinka in straight sets, but quickly the match turned on its head and Raonic found himself in a fifth set against the strong Swiss veteran.
In past times, Raonic usually crumbled under such pressure, but this was a different Milos Raonic. The Canadian powered through and grinded out the set. Raonic was able to get up a break in the fifth set, and dominated on serve having seven aces, including a dominant game where he aced Wawrinka on all four points. Raonic had never shown such resilience and dominance against a world-class player, and particularly in a Major event. This is a direct showing that Raonic is ready to take the next step.
The next step would be Raonic cracking a Major final and eventually winning a Major. Wimbledon, Raonic’s best Major, is still to come, and it would be the perfect place for him to take that next step. Time will tell as Raonic still has plenty of action until Wimbledon and has to do his best to stay healthy, as the Canadian juggernaut has had injury woes in the past. Yet the potential remains to show that the Australian Open was not a fluke when the French Open rolls around in mid-May.