words and photos copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media —
TOKYO — Canadian tennis ace Milos Raonic overpowered Ivan Dodig 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Saturday to advance to the Rakuten Japan Open final in Tokyo.
Raonic has now won 8 consecutive matches in Asia. He beat Thomas Berdych to win the Thailand Open last week in Bangkok. He hasn’t lost a game on his serve this week on the hard, fast courts at Ariake stadium in Tokyo Bay.
Raonic, who lost his two previous matches to Dodig, dominated the Croatian under the roof in Tokyo with a variety of booming, slicing and kicking serves as well as timely passing shots and deft drop volleys.
In a tight first set, Raonic charged the net, harried Dodic into misses, and spun two shots off the net to force a tiebreaker after trailing 4-5 and 5-6. Down 1-4 in the tiebreaker, Raonic reeled off six straight points, including a riveting backhand passing shot at 4-all, before sealing the set with a service winner.
In the second set, Raonic continued to chip away at Dodic’s serve. “I was getting closer and closer to breaking his serve,” said Raonic, who finally broke through to go 3-1. “I started swinging more and more freely after that.”
Raonic showed improvement in his ground game, unleashing winners from both sides or extending rallies with backhand slices. He hit drop volleys at key junctures, and served his way out of trouble. His game plan has become more defined in Asia: taking care of his serve, dictating play, commanding points from the center of the court, and pinning opponents as deep as possible.
In the final on Sunday, Raonic will play Juan Martin del Potro, who’ll want to avenge his loss to Raonic in Montreal this summer. Del Potro thought Raonic touched the net in the second set, then lost the next three games as Canadian fans cheered on Raonic, perhaps the best player ever to emerge in Canada.
See highlights here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYLFWotUw4s)
Del Potro withstood an onslaught by Nicolas Almagro to win 7-6, 7-6 in Saturday’s other semi-final, the best match of the tournament so far.
“We both played with the highest energy that we can,” del Potro said after the match. “Almagro made unbelievable winners. I came back with fantastic shots. He made an unbelievable winner on that backhand in the tie-break. I made winners in important times. In these matches, one or two points can be the difference, so I just tried to stay focused until the end.”
Del Potro said Raonic is playing well. “He already won last week beating Berdych in the finals, and he’s in the finals here. I know his game. His serving is so hard. It’s tough to break his serve during the match. In the finals anything can happen. Maybe I need to play better than today. I don’t know who is the favorite. It’s going to be an interesting match.”
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