Federer is the graceful legend who has mesmerized the tennis world with his fluid style and record-breaking career. He looks to extend his dominance with his 18th Grand Slam title, but he must defeat another rising potential star after beating back highly touted Bernard Tomic.
Raonic is the hungry challenger who has made noise with a booming serve and tough resilience against Federer. There are many fans and writers who feel he could be the next in line to be a Grand Slam champion.
Three Battles in 2012
Federer and Raonic met three times in 2012 for their only career meetings. Though Federer won each match, they were tight three-set affairs that tested the great champion.
Federer acknowledged the tight battles with Raonic to Reuters (via Firstpost.Sports), saying: “Indian Wells, I felt like I was more in control than the other two. In Madrid I was in a lot of trouble. Halle was extremely close.”
Federer’s title on the blue clay of Madrid in 2012 was most in jeopardy in the round of 32 against Raonic. His 21-year-old opponent drilled aces as if he were a reincarnation of Pistol Pete Sampras. Raonic won the first set 6-4 and narrowly dropped the second set 7-5.
Perhaps a more fluid and seasoned Raonic could have closed out the match. He hit several forehand lasers from the baseline, but it was Federer who adapted on the slick surface with a serve-and-volley approach. The Swiss Maestro finally pulled out the third-set tiebreaker by overcoming pressure moments.
The Madrid loss and another tight contest on the grass at Halle buoyed Raonic’s confidence, as he told Reuters (via Firstpost): “I just know how to deal with it. I think I have a higher tolerance within myself and a higher belief within myself stepping up against Roger.”
This time, Raonic has the seasoning and stage to make his statement. Is now the time for a breakout against the all-time champion?
Federer knows he will face bullet serves. Raonic can routinely test the radar gun at 130-140 miles per hour. Last year in the Rogers Cup, Raonic served up a flaming special at 155 mph. None of this will faze Federer. The Swiss Maestro has shown a greater level of concentration against big servers like Raonic and John Isner by holding his own serve. The match should move quickly.
The key for Federer will be to put a second and third ball into play off Raonic’s serves. Federer’s movement and footwork are superior to Raonic’s more plodding stride. Raonic has a big forehand, but it is less effective than that of big man Tomas Berdych, who utilizes better footwork.
In particular, Raonic does not like to move forward into the court, but focuses on his side-to-side movement to set up his big forehand. Federer will mix in slice shots with varying depth to force Raonic to come in and bend low for shots. In the past, Raonic has been inconsistent around the net.
Federer's superior footwork is a major advantage and over the course of winning three sets will be more crucial as the match progresses.
Raonic will need to have a sharp day with his backhand. Often he pokes it back without an offensive purpose, either leaving it short or being content to leave it too close to the middle of the court. Federer will make him pay unless he shows improvement here.
Above all, Raonic must improve his return-of-serve game. In 2012, Raonic only won 16 percent of his return games, which ranked him only at 63rd in that category. His long limbs would appear to give him extension, but he can also be jammed by serving at his body. His reaction time must improve, and this will not be easy against the intelligent variety Federer serves up.
Present and Future of Tennis
Raonic has much more to gain in winning this match. He needs a statement win against a great opponent on a big stage. There are no bigger opportunities than Federer. Raonic will need to build on a great win with continued success and consistency. A march to at least the semifinals could announce him as a bona fide Slam contender for 2013.
Raonic is all too aware of his moment to shine. On the event's official website, an article by James Hunter-Smith reported Raonic's growing optimism, as the Canadian said: “But it’s going to happen, I feel like I’m a lot closer. But you can’t place time on confidence, on belief, on getting through a few tough matches. But I know as far as ability goes, as far as skill sets go, I’m getting closer and closer.”
Meanwhile, Federer has more dragons to slay and goals of his own.
The past decade has been spent staving off one challenger after another, and despite occasional losses, has always improved with his own tactics and game. He is a computer that remembers the good and bad to previous matchups and is able to alter his attack with something new.
Federer wants nothing more to send a statement of his own. He is less than a week away from another Aussie title and ready to extend his amazing career reign on the ATP tour.
And if the match does not prove to be a watershed match for the future of tennis, it should at least be great theater.