There can be little doubt that Novak Djokovic goes into today’s title match against Milos Raonic as the clear favourite.
The World Number One is a two time defending champion at the event, and remains unbeaten on slow, grittier hard court surfaces the event takes place on of late. Raonic is a great hard court player, the booming server enjoying a title run in slow conditions in Brisbane this year, before stretching Andy Murray to five sets in the Australian semifinals a few weeks later. Both men enjoy their best results on hard courts, but their head-to-head stats make for grim reading for Milos.
The Canadian has gone down in all his five meetings against Novak, taking just one of the fourteen sets they’ve contested. More crucial still, his last two losses, late 2014 in the Paris Masters, and last year in the Australian Open quarters, Raonic was beaten in straight sets on hard courts of comparable speed to those in Indian Wells.
It is a bad matchup for the Canadian. Although he has improved other facets of his game in recent years, his entire game is predicated on his gargantuan serve. When this has been on song, Raonic has been able to dictate and attack against Federer, Nadal, and Murray, enjoying wins against each of these hall of famers. Djokovic, though, widely regarded as the best returner in the game, is able to nullify this shot, and thus dictate the rallies himself. This is the worst possible thing that can happen to Raonic. Although fitter, and possessing a better ground game than when he relied purely on his serve, at six foot five inches he is not going to be able to chase down shot after shot against Novak. The Serb is inevitably going to try to put his man on the defensive wherever possible.
All is not lost for Milos. He is arguably playing the tennis of his life, backing up his big serve with choice attacks at the net, and ripping the backhand where once this was a passive rallying shot. He is a markedly improved player in the year and two months since their last meeting. Furthermore, his opponent has not looked entirely convincing this week, losing a set in a sluggish opening match, before almost losing a set to Nadal in yesterday’s semifinal.
I back Djokovic to win today. He is good at bringing his best to bear in finals, even after less than convincing results en route to them. The slower variant of hard courts is where he is at his best, and his style is the closest thing to a roadblock the Canadian will face on the tour. I do not write Raonic off, though. He has looked mostly sharp this week, is in a rich vein of form of late, and if he serves and attacks well, stretching the Serb to tiebreaks, it is anyone’s match.
Djokovic to win in three sets.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): sirobi / Christian Mesiano