Raonic One Step Closer to Title Defense


SAN JOSE, CALIF. — When Milos Raonic gets on a roll from the service stripe, take cover.  Fernando Verdasco got a taste of it last year when he fell to the Canadian powerballer in the SAP Open final.  Said the shell-shocked Spaniard, “There must be another league for players like him because it’s another sport.  When he serves all the time at 140 miles an hour, and every time there’s a chance it’s going to hit the line, you cannot even play tennis.”

Ryan Harrison was on the receiving end of the defending champion’s blasts on Saturday in San Jose, as his 6-foot-5 foe crushed 20 winners and won 84 percent of his first-serve points in an impressive 7-6(4), 6-2 semifinal win, moving on to his second consecutive final at the HP Pavilion.

“I can guarantee you, if he serves like that against anybody, he’s going to be a nightmare to break,” said Harrison, who was coming off his Davis Cup debut in Switzerland, where the Americans shocked Roger Federer & Co. 5-0.  “For Roger – it doesn’t matter who he plays.  When he serves like that, it’s going to be a tough match for any of the top guys — Roger, Rafa, Novak — all the guys who are the best in the game, it’s going to be a tough day for them.”

It was a matchup of two of the youngest players in the top 100 — Harrison just 19, and Raonic 21.  Appropriately, the evenly played first set, which featured solid groundstrokes from both players, came down to a tiebreaker.  The No. 94-ranked Harrison fell behind early when a forehand floated just inches beyond the baseline, and Raonic responded with aces of 142 and 119 miles per hour, respectively.  Before Harrison knew it, he was down 4-0 in the stanza, and although he later narrowed that advantage to 5-4, Raonic proved unbreakable.

“The tiebreaker was huge,” said Harrison, who was appearing in his third ATP Tour semifinal.  “I missed a forehand by half an inch on the first point. After that, he goes ace-ace.  The very next point, I hit the spot I wanted to, into his body on his forehand.  He kind of hit it off the bottom of the frame and hit the net tape and it rolled over.  When a guy serves like that and he’s swinging free and he’s loose off the ground, he makes for a rough guy to beat.  I’ve got to get good enough to where I don’t get in tiebreakers with those guys because sometimes in tiebreakers you can’t control everything that happens.”

Harrison, too, flexed some muscle with his serve.  In fact, he served well all week, including a career-high 27-ace performance in his opening-round win over Olivier Rochus.  But he was broken with a key double-fault in the fourth game of the second set against Raonic and failed to convert his only break-point chance on the afternoon.

“I did a really good job taking care of the serve,” said Raonic, who has only been broken twice in seven matches in San Jose dating back to 2011.

The world No. 32 says he originally modeled his serve after one of the all-time greats and perhaps the ultimate benchmark — Pete Sampras – with all of its trademark subtleties.

“For two or three months I was doing everything – the foot up, everything,” explained Raonic.  “My coach talked me out of that one.  I’m pretty sure it was hard to talk me out of it, but I think there’s a lot of similarities.  It’s pretty fluid for both.  I still think there’s a lot more work to do to serve as well as him.”

Raonic, who will face the winner of the Julien BenneteauDenis Istomin semifinal, is attempting to become the first back-to-back winner here since Andy Murray won titles in 2006 and 2007.