Roger Federer opened his Barclays ATP World Tour Finals account with a 6-1, 7-6(0) victory against Milos Raonic on Sunday night.
Federer needs to win as many matches as he can at London’s o2 Arena this week if he is to keep his chances of taking the world no. 1 ranking back from Novak Djokovic alive, and considering that Raonic handed him a shock defeat less than two weeks ago at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, a straight-sets victory over the big-serving Canadian could not be bettered.
The world no. 2 had failed to break Raonic’s serve and could only earn one break point in that Paris encounter but it was a different story from the earliest stages of the match as they met again in London. Despite getting to 30-30 (in a rally that ultimately left him sprawling) in Federer’s first service game, Raonic made a horrible start to the match on his own serve with Federer’s chipped, floating service returns playing havoc with his big first delivery. Going 0-40 down after missing a backhand volley, Raonic was promptly broken to fall behind 0-2 as he put a backhand in the net, easily outmaneouvred from the baseline by Federer.
Raonic’s judicious and effective use of his backhand, a shot he is generally reluctant to hit through, was crucial to his victory in Paris and it was something he never managed to do consistently on Sunday. The Canadian looked all at sea in the first set and fell behind a second break at 1-4 after slamming a wild forehand out, while Federer could not have looked more comfortable as he wrapped up a 25-minute, 6-1 first set in which he won six of his seven second-serve points; Raonic, just one of seven.
Raonic, to do him credit, changed up his tactics in the second set, going for a lot more on serve in exchange for seeing his percentage drop, and he managed to survive the first few games. Indeed, it was Federer who was consistently under pressure on serve in the second set from the fourth game onwards. Serving at 1-2, Federer had to save two break points after Raonic landed a clean forehand return winner on to the sideline; at 2-3, a third was saved when Raonic overran a second serve, expecting it wide to his backhand and having to hit it on the hop off the other wing instead. Raonic had 15-30 at 3-4 on Federer’s serve but Federer’s backhand came to the rescue, landing a winner past Raonic at the net.
With Federer serving at 5-6, Raonic’s best chances of the match came – and went. 0-30 up after Federer missed an attacking forehand, Raonic overpressed on a forehand of his own to drop back to 30-30. The Canadian set up a break point with some bold play but Federer snuffed it out with a service winner and Raonic made a fairly egregious error on a second-serve return, then pushed a backhand long to see Federer survive the game.
Whether those missed chances to break preyed on Raonic’s mind or not, the Canadian played a calamitous tiebreak after an initial stroke of bad luck saw the netcord carry his forehand out on the first point. He had a chance to recover it immediately when he dictated the point with his forehand, but missed the finishing shot wide and Federer lead 2-0, then 4-0 as Raonic double-faulted.
When Raonic put an inside-out forehand into the net to fall behind 0-5, it was all over bar the shouting – although there was still time for two more Raonic errors, a volley in the net for 0-6 and a missed second-serve return to give up the match.
The Canadian will be disappointed with his World Tour Finals debut, especially after having had so many chances in the second set when Federer’s level dropped. But the world no. 2 will only grow in confidence after avenging his Paris defeat and starting his week with a straight-sets win over a dangerous opponent.