Notes from the Front – SAP Open 2013, Day Six Semifinals
By Kevin Ware
Day Six Semifinal Results
 Tommy Haas (GER) d  John Isner (USA) 6-3, 6-4
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Sam Querrey (USA) 6-4, 6-2
After watching Tommy Haas and John Isner the past few rounds, I had an uneasy feeling about Isner’s chances against the resurgent German in the first semifinal. Isner needed to start aggressively, serve well, and keep the points short. Haas needed to challenge the Isner second serve, take his chances, and work the big man over with baseline play. The Haas strategy proved to be the winning one, as he took out the No. 2 seed in straight sets.
When asked about his success in seeing the Isner serve, Haas said, “I mean, that’s the key against somebody like John, obviously. I think early on in the beginning he didn’t hit his first serves in so I tried to jump on the second, tried to make something happen, get it back in play, and then take my chances in the rally.” That’s exactly what he did; getting balls back into play and making the big man hit the proverbial “one more shot”.
“You have to play aggressive and play the type of tennis that you want to play. It can be tricky, but I did see his serve really well today and that obviously helps.”
For his part, Isner missed on all aspects of his “key to the win”. He started slow, missed some first serves, and found himself caught in baseline rallies he had little chance of winning. Lack of rhythm on his serve was at the top of the list in Isner’s honest assessment about his difficulties in this match.
“Yeah, that’s really what decided the match. I feel like normally I serve better than I did. And against a guy who is and was playing really well in that match, I need to serve better.”
The serve was just one aspect of Isner’s loss. When Haas drew Isner into baseline rallies, his speed and movement gave him a huge advantage over the taller Isner. When asked how he felt his ground game held up against Haas, Isner admitted, “It let me down a little bit. This court it stays low and it skids. I would prefer the ball to get up a little bit higher for me. But still I got a ways to go with just my game and going for my shots, and trusting my shots a little bit more. I just didn’t have it today.”
With this win, Haas reaches his 25th ATP World Tour final and has a chance to become the first German winner of the SAP Open.
Milos Raonic completely dismantled Sam Querrey, breaking the American’s serve in the very first game of the match. From there, he never looked back as he gave Querrey a comprehensive lesson in “big boy tennis”.
Raonic dominated Querrey with big serving, big forehands, big backhands and, most importantly, solid returning that kept Querrey under continual pressure in his service games. Every aspect of Raonic’s game was working in the match, and it became clear after a few games that Sam had little chance of stopping the Raonic juggernaut.
It can’t be overstated just how dramatically Raonic’s off-season work on his return game impacts a match like this. The stats tell much of the story for these two big servers.
Aces: 12 for Raonic, 7 for Querrey
Double Faults: 0 for Raonic, 4 for Querrey
Break Points Saved: 0/0 for Raonic, 6/9 for Querrey
By breaking Querrey early, Raonic put him on notice. Instead of the 20 aces that he hit in both of his earlier matches, he only got 7 against Raonic. That’s a ton of free points on which he usually relies that were no longer available. On top of that, pressing on his serve led to more double faults. Raonic had, for all practical purposes, taken the Querrey serve out of the equation.
When your weapon is no longer a weapon, and you can’t break your opponent’s serve while defending yours in each service game, the odds of success drop dramatically.
Raonic’s continually improving game is the result of hard work in the off-season, and the confidence it’s given him on court is palpable. “(I’m) returning well, moving well, getting into position to hit the shot and when I have the opportunity I’m going forward and I’m pretty successful. And I’m serving well. So sort of everything’s on the right track, in that sense. Then confidence comes with that. The work’s paying off.”
Sam acknowledged what was painfully obvious to all in attendance. “He served unbelievable, and I was never even really close to getting a look on his serve. On my serve I wasn’t getting a ton of pop and he was doing a good job of putting the pressure on me. He returned hard and deep and I felt like I was under pressure the whole time.” “He hit the ball big all around. He was really sharp today.”
To the contrary, Raonic has been sharp for the past three years. Two of his three career titles have come at the SAP Open, and he’s never dropped a set in San Jose. If he wins this final SAP Open title, he will be the first man to three-peat in the Open Era, and the first since Tony Trabert in the fifties. Judging by his play so far, this outcome appears likely.
 Milos Raonic (CAN) vs  Tommy Haas (GER)
Head-to-head: Raonic and Haas have never played.
Keys to the match: Raonic just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing in order to lift the trophy. But in order for Haas to have a chance in this final, he needs to do everything that he did in his semifinal match against Isner, and do it all BETTER! That’s a formidable task for most players, let alone a guy who’s spotting Raonic twelve years before they even step onto court.
Raonic can pressure Haas in ways that Isner couldn’t. He serves as big if not bigger than Isner. In addition to the big forehand, he also possesses a stronger backhand. He scrambles well to short balls and isn’t afraid to take the net. To make matters worse, he really likes the court surface and feels that it suits his game nicely. To say that this is an uphill battle would be the understatement of the day.
The good thing about tennis, however, is that titles aren’t handed out to the winners because it looks good on paper. Even though Raonic is the overwhelming favorite, he still needs to win the match. And lest we forget, Isner was the overwhelming favorite over Haas in the semifinals. His odds aren’t good, but there’s always a chance for the upset.
Pick: Raonic for the win in straight sets.
All photos by David Sweet