It didn’t take long for two Top 10 players to square off in an ATP final as Roger Federer and Milos Raonic are set to contest in the Brisbane final Sunday.
Federer enters the championship match in fine form, having dispatched World No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in 53 minutes in the semifinals. The Swiss had previously beaten Aussie James Duckworth 6-0, 6-1 after Duckworth’s countryman, John Millman, took the first set off Federer in the first round.
Raonic’s path to the final was far more treacherous. The Canadian was taken to final set tiebreaks in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches, against Sam Groth and Kei Nishikori, respectively.
Federer leads their head-to-head 7-1, including three victories over his Canadian rival in 2014. Their last meeting came in the round robin stage of the World Tour Finals, which Federer won in straight sets. Raonic had recorded his only victory over Federer week earlier in Paris-Bercy.
The No. 3 seed’s biggest weapon is undoubtedly his serve, but last year, he managed it rather poorly against Federer and paid the price. Federer handles pace up the middle well and is able to deflect the Canadian’s booming serves with the abbreviated strikes he unleashes off the return. Raonic has managed to make strides against Federer when he’s varying the placement and spin of his delivery, keeping the Swiss off-balance in the process. He particularly benefits when kicking it out wide to Federer’s backhand, subsequently dictating with his forehand.
Top seed in Brisbane, Federer has only dropped serve to Raonic twice in eight matches. A shaky return is rarely a problem for the Canadian, who touts his talent in surviving many a set’s sudden death, but against the best tiebreak player in tennis, his biggest strength is blunted.
Long rallies will be at a premium but Federer should be able to prevent Raonic from entering his preferred offensive patterns, particularly with the off-forehand. Even on his weaker shot, the former No. 1 can maintain width on his cross-court backhand and keep his slice low, forcing the Canadian into more uncomfortable reactions that will ultimately lower his margin for error.
If Raonic is unable to control the center of the court, Federer is going to punish Raonic’s backhand with his own inside-out forehand. The Canadian isn’t a great defender by any stretch of the imagination; off his backhand side, he is particularly vulnerable.
Federer’s form is at a level that it’s hard to see Raonic making a breakthrough here, but if the Canadian can start strong, he could potentially ride the momentum into a Brisbane trophy.
Prediction: Federer in two sets