It's not the semi-final many would have predicted, but it is quite the intriguing match-up. Andy Murray will take the court against Milos Raonic Friday to determine who faces either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in the Australian Open final.
Murray is vying for a spot in his fifth career Australian Open final while Raonic is attempting to reach his first grand slam final. Expect the match to be close as their head to head record is level at 3-3.
The Canadian has yet to lose a match in 2016 and already has wins over two past grand slam winners, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. He is arguably playing the best tennis of his career and there have been zero signs of him letting up. Andy Murray has to be at his best if he wants to take down Raonic.
Murray is coming off a four set win over David Ferrer where he wasn't at his best. The Brit made 64 unforced errors, 8 of which were double faults. Murray also struggled with his backhand. He made 35 unforced errors using his backhand alone.
Raonic is also coming off a four set quarter-final win. He took out the Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4. Not only did Raonic win, but he showed he is improving his game as the tournament goes on. He improved his winning percentage in the medium rallies (4-9 shots) from 51% against Wawrinka in the round-of-16 up to 58% against Monfils. He also won more points on his first serve up from 79% (80 of 101) against Wawrinka to 84% (52/62) against Monfils. Raonic even improved off of his already impressive net play upping the percentage of points won against Wawrinka at the net from 65% (54/83) to 67% (31/46).
Keys to a Raonic Win
1. Protect his Serve
Raonic protected his serve well against Monfils only allowing 2 break point opportunities. Murray though is one of the best returners in the game and will likely get a lot more balls back than Monfils, especially if it's on Raonic's second serve.
To counteract Murray's great defense Raonic needs to get his first serves in. Even though his second service points won percentage wasn't bad against Monfils, it is still risky to have to hit a high number of second serves against Murray. Raonic shouldn't put himself in that position which is why he needs to improve his first serve percentage. He managed to only get 61% (62/101) of his first serves in against Monfils. That's his second lowest total of the tournament (58% (70/121) against Tommy Robredo was his lowest).
2. Be effective at the net and win the medium rallies
Since Murray will probably get a lot of balls back, Raonic has to be efficient at the net and also win the medium rallies (4-9 shots). Raonic's serve and volleying has been highly effective against his opponents so far. In his last match he won 31/46 points at the net. A lot of those were off a serve and volley. There is no reason to change that strategy if you're Raonic because it is more pressure being put on Murray's ability to get involved in Raonic's service games.
If Murray does get balls back and a rally starts Raonic should target Murray's backhand because, like mentioned earlier, Murray's backhand was responsible for 35 unforced errors in his match against Ferrer. That would be an efficient way to win the 4-9 shot rallies. According to the IBM SlamTracker analytics Raonic has a high percentage chance of winning the match when he wins 48% of the medium rallies or more.
For a 45th time in their careers Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic face-off, this time to decide who plays in the Australian Open final.
It is their first meeting down under since the 2011 Australian Open when they played in the semi-final. Djokovic won in straight sets on his way to the title that year. Oddly enough the three times the two have played in Melbourne all have been straight set victories and the winner of the match went on to win the title. Federer won in 2007, Djokovic in 2008, and Djokovic again in 2011.
Their head to head is dead even at 22-22, but Djokovic has had the upper hand in their rivalry in recent years sporting a 16-9 record since the beginning of the 2011 season. Djokovic also leads 5-2 at grand slams in that same time frame.
Last year Djokovic and Federer met eight times with Djokovic winning five of the eight encounters, two of which were grand slam finals.
Their recent history suggests the match will be an uphill battle for Federer. Federer will need to bring his A-game, something he struggles to do against Djokovic. There are three aspects of Federer's game that have to be on point versus Djokovic.
1. Federer has to put pressure on Djokovic's serve.
Once Djokovic gets into a groove on his serve it will be difficult for Federer to break. Fortunately for Federer, Djokovic hasn't been dominant on his serve at the Australian Open. In Djokovic's last match versus Kei Nishikori his first serve percentage was at only 57%. If that number stays around there that means Federer will get a lot of second serve looks.
Once Federer gets involved in Djokovic's service games he MUST take advantage of break points.
Federer's Break Point Conversion Rate vs. Djokovic (Last 8 matches)
Break Point Chances
ATP World Tour Finals (Final)
ATP World Tour Finals (Round Robin)
In only one of those matches did Federer have a break point conversion rate below 50% and won (Cincinnati 1/8). It is clear Federer must take advantage of break points. Realistically he should have won the U.S. Open last year. He put constant pressure on Djokovic's service games, but only managed to convert 4/23 break point opportunities. That is a staggering number.
If Federer puts that kind of pressure on Djokovic's serve again and this time converts his break points he will have a great shot at winning the match.
2. Unforced Error Count needs to be lower
In Federer's hard thought clinical quarter-final win versus Tomas Berdych he only made 26 unforced errors. In the U.S. Open final he made an astounding 54 unforced errors over four sets. His unforced error count needs to be around where it was against Berdych. He can't be giving away free points to Djokovic because he will make him pay.
3. Second Serve
Federer's Second Serve Points Won vs. Djokovic (Last 8 matches)
Second Serve Points Won
ATP World Tour Finals (Final)
ATP World Tour Finals (Round Robin)
The stats show Federer needs to protect his second serve. The outlier here is Dubai where Federer won 11/27 points on second serves and still won the match. In the seven other matches when these two faced last year Federer lost five of the seven where his second serve points were below 50%.
In the two matches he won his second service points won percentage was above 75%. So he needs to make sure Djokovic doesn't get a lot of second serve looks and when he does he must place them well so Djokovic can't turn defense to offense on a dime.
For Djokovic to win it's a lot easier because he doesn't have to make many adjustments and he also has the mental advantage. In New York Federer was playing great tennis and his game caved in the final. At Wimbledon Federer was coming off one of the best matches in his career in the semi-finals defeating Andy Murray and he caved in the final again. Everyone including Federer is chasing Djokovic, they have to raise their game. All Djokovic needs to do is to continue playing his game and he will win.
PREDICTION: Federer will battle hard, but he will beat himself again. Djokovic wins 6-3 7-5 4-6 6-4. If Federer isn't fighting himself the result may go the other way.
Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils have both quietly made their way into the Australian Open quarter-finals. Both players have gone about their play not drawing much attention. That is all about to change.
Raonic advanced to the quarter-finals after a thrilling five set victory against the 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in his round-of-16 match. It seemed as though Raonic had the spot locked up after he went up two sets to none, but that was only the beginning.
In the third set Wawrinka finally got himself mentally invested in the match. His level of play was nowhere near his best at anytime in the match, but he was able to will himself on to winning the third and fourth sets. He pointed to his head numerous times along the way trying to tell and encourage himself to play smart tennis.
In the fifth set Raonic continued to do what was effective for him the entire match, constant aggressive net play. Raonic came to the net 83 times throughout the match winning 54 of the 83 attempts (64%). He was constantly putting pressure on Wawrinka.
During the fifth set Raonic won 11/16 net points. Even after the fourth set where his net play let him down (won 12/21 net points) he still continued coming to the net and it paid off. Raonic held off Wawrinka's comeback with a 6-4 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-3 win.
Even though Wawrinka was not at his best, Raonic still could have wilted after losing the third and fourth sets, but mentally he stayed in check. He didn't get frustrated on court. The most frustration he showed was when Wawrinka changed racquets and took his time. Wawrinka did this to get back at Raonic for changing his shoes the game before.
This is Raonic's second straight quarter-finals appearance in Melbourne and fourth grand slam quarter-finals appearance in his career. Now standing in his way of a second career grand slam semi-final is Monfils.
Keys to Raonic Win
1. Continue his strong net play. Serve and volley is refreshing and effective.
2. Win the medium rallies (4-9 shots in length). Against Wawrinka he won just 51% of those rallies. That number needs to rise.
Monfils had a less stressful round-of-16 match than Raonic as he took out Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5 3-6 6-3 7-6(4). It wouldn't be a Monfils match though without a Monfils moment. Monfils dove in an attempt to fend off a shot from Kuznetsov that caught Monfils going in the wrong direction. Monfils dove from way behind the baseline, but even with the theatrics he just put the ball in the net.
Monfils is almost always playing for the crowd. He likes to put on a show, but in some ways that is what has held back his career. The now 29-year-old has underachieved for most of his career. The sheer talent and skill that flows out of Monfils onto his racquet should have made him a consistent top 10 player, but he puts entertaining the crowd ahead of playing smart tennis.
His last grand slam quarter-final match came In the 2014 U.S. Open. He went up two sets against Roger Federer and had two match points in the fourth set, but he still couldn't get the job done. He played at such a high level through the first two sets and even in the third and fourth sets, but in the fifth set he visually gave up. He was drinking coke on court and was going for entertaining shots instead of smart shots. Federer completed the comeback.
That can't happen against Raonic. Monfils needs to come in with a complete professional mindset if he wants to reach his first grand slam semi-final since the 2008 French Open.
Keys to a Monfils Win
1. No lackadaisical stretches of play. Must have a business like approach (Win the mental game)
2. Get first serves in and win the first serve points. Keep the pressure on Raonic with quick service holds of his own.
3. Make the net play tough for Raonic. If Raonic is going to continue to come into the net, Monfils has to have a game plan for limiting the amount of success Raonic will have at the net.
Monfils leads their head to head 2-0, but they haven't played since the grass court tournament in Halle 2013. This match will go four sets and I really believe it is open to be won by either player. My prediction is a four set Monfils win 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-4. This is Monfils' best chance at reaching a grand slam semi-final since 2008 and I think he will realize that and take advantage.