By The Associated Press
MEMPHIS — Big slap shot. Check. Can rush the net. Check. Doesn’t back down. Check.
Milos Raonic seems to have the tools to be a major sports star in Canada, even if he plays his game in cushioned tennis shoes rather than hockey skates.
Raonic, 20, from Thornhill, Ontario, again used his big serve and forehand to power past Mardy Fish 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Saturday at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championship and into his second, and second consecutive, ATP World Tour final. Raonic will play top-seeded American Andy Roddick, who defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-4 in the second semifinal.
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“It’s amazing to be in two finals in a row, especially in an ATP 500,” Raonic said. “The thing I’m most proud of is my level.”
The 20-year-old rising star began the season ranked 156th in the world, moved up to No. 59 after capturing the title last week in San Jose, and will move to around No. 37 making him the highest-ranking Canadian in tour history. He’s beaten three top-10 players, including two wins against No. 9 Fernando Verdasco.
“I’m preparing the same way I did for the first match in San Jose. I’m preparing the same way I did for the first match of the year,” Raonic said. “I have my routine. I stick to it. I believe in it. … This is all I can ask of myself. If it doesn’t go how I want, or if it goes how I want and I need to fix some things I will go out on the practice court and fix some things. I’m not going to be arrogant or ignorant about it and say I don’t need to work on anything else anymore. I’m so far from that. … There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Raonic served huge again, but not always with the 140-mph heat, mixing in big kickers that bounced high to Fish’s backhand. Fish seemed to get comfortable in the second set (Raonic said he got a bit predictable) before Raonic stepped up his play in the third set on his way to his eighth consecutive victory.
Raonic fired 23 aces against Fish, running his total in the tournament to 97.
“You’re basically guessing if you’re standing way up,” Fish said. “I felt like I was able to move back and at least get my racket on a few and not necessarily have to guess as much. But he hit spots, and it doesn’t matter.”
The 6-5 Raonic also showed off the variety of his game: punishing forehand with which he controls points; approaches to the net when opportunities arise; and perhaps surprising movement.
After his first-round victory, a frustrated Verdasco accused Raonic of being all about the serves. But he showed against the veteran Fish he could rally when it suited his purposes.
After grabbing an early break in the third game, Raonic cruised through the first set. In the second set, his first-serve percentage dipped (to 59% from 64%), and Fish found the range on the second serve (winning 11 of 15 points). Raonic was on target with his first serve in the third set (77%, winning 76% of first-serve points). Fish got no break opportunities in the third set, and Raonic capitalized on two of his four chances.
Roddick, who will be appearing in his 50th ATP Tour final and chasing his 30th title, called his victory against del Potro the best tennis he’s played this year, including Australia.
“I played pretty good defense. I attacked when I had to,” Roddick said. “Played pretty smart. Mixed up some serve and volley. I didn’t let him get a rhyhm. If he sets up for balls and gets a rhythm, he can hit it probably harder than anybody.”
“Probably the shot that changed the momentum of a lot of rallies was that I was able to get my chip cross court to his backhand. He wasn’t setting up and firing forehands. I was able to do that from compromised positions, and that was able to get me back to neutral in a lot of rallies.”
As for Raonic, Roddick sees the confidence building.
“He’s got the confidence of someone who has played (about 10) matches in 12 days,” Roddick said. “He’s winning every match close. He’s playing well on the big points, and that comes with confidence. He’s certainly on a roll and has momentum.
“That being said, I have to beat him on one day.”
Continued at USA Today.