( February 17, 2013) SAN JOSE
By Kevin Ware
Notes from the Front – Milos Raonic Three-Peats at the Final SAP Open
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Tommy Haas (GER) 6-4, 6-3
Milos Raonic completed a week of dominating tennis by defeating Tommy Haas in straight sets to become only the third man to three-peat in the SAP Open’s 125 year history, and the first in the Open Era. Though some great players have won this tournament 3 times or more, the three-peat hasn’t been accomplished since Tony Trabert (1953-55). With this win at the final SAP Open, Raonic has indeed joined the ranks of an elite few.
The term “dominating” is actually an understatement for Raonic’s play when you look at his accomplishments at this tournament. He won without dropping serve the entire week, and only faced one break point in 39 service holds. Additionally, Raonic has never dropped a set during his three year run at the SAP Open, winning 24 sets in a row. These are remarkable numbers from a player who’s won three of his four career titles in San Jose, and who jokingly said that he should “roll up the court, put it in his bag, and hope that it doesn’t get lost” on his next flight.
THE X’S AND O’S
Raonic’s first service game set the tone for the match with four aces, ranging in speed from 123mph to 148mph. By the end he would have a total of 19. Many expect Raonic to ace his opponents with pace, but many of his aces in this match came on serves between 115-120mph with great placement. By contrast, Haas had 1 ace in the third game of the second set; his only ace of the match. It’s tough to overcome that many free points in a match that might be decided by only 5. (Raonic had a total of 58 aces for the week.)
Raonic has talked a lot this past week about the work he’s put in on his return game, and the results were evident in today’s final. Whenever Haas served out wide to the Raonic backhand on the ad court, he ran the risk of getting burned by Raonic’s backhand down the line. It was a risk that hurt him greatly. But there weren’t many other options open if he wanted to avoid the Raonic forehand, which could hurt him worse: either as a crosscourt return from the deuce court or an inside out shot from the ad court.
Raonic put Haas under pressure with an early break in the third game, and finished the match with a total of 7 break point chances while facing none on his own serve. To put this into the larger context of the tournament, Raonic faced (and saved) one break point the whole tournament. It happened in his match with Denis Istomin. His opponents (Michael Russell, Denis Istomin, Sam Querrey, and Tommy Haas) faced a total of 27. It’s impossible to take a set off of someone if you can’t break their serve.
Unlike his match against John Isner, Haas had to face an opponent with a strong ground game on both sides who also wasn’t afraid to come in and attack the net. In his post-match press conference, he referred to Raonic’s strategy as “taking risks” and being rewarded.
I understand Tommy’s need to chalk this up to a player rolling the dice and getting hot. But that would be unfair to Raonic, because it’s not possible to explain the Raonic game in such low-percentage terms, especially given the consistent execution. Raonic didn’t have one spectacular day of shot-making. He’s had three years of spectacular shot-making, so it doesn’t seem like there was much risk-taking involved.
It should also be noted that Haas didn’t play badly. In fact, his play in the final was very much on a par with his play against Isner in the semifinals. He served decently, hit his backhand well and tried to finish points at the net when possible. But as the match wore on and the pressure wore him down, Haas’ execution suffered. Either he cut his margins too fine when going for the lines, or was forced to block shots back in the hope that they would stay in and prolong rallies. More often than not he was left watching shots whiz by with a plaintive look on his face.
Sadly, his reactive tennis seemed more of a risky strategy than the Raonic’s game.
Did you feel any pressure today?
“Yes, at the beginning. But I made a conscious effort…to hit harder to get the energy out.”
Even with your dominant level of play in the final, is there one thing you could have done better?
“When I’m playing well and my opponent is playing well, mixing it up a bit more.”
Did Raonic’s play how you expected him to play today?
“Yeah, he didn’t give me too many looks on his serve. He served extremely well and has a lot of confidence in that serve. He played risky when he had to and he got rewarded for it. That’s his game and what’s so tough. It puts pressure on me trying to hold serve, and he was feeling it.”
 Xavier Malisse (BEL) / Frank Moser (GER) d [WC] Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) / Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 6-0, 6-7(5), 10-4
After falling to an embarassing 6-0, 4-0 deficit, the Aussies made a match of it; winning the second set but ultimately losing the match tiebreaker.