Murray's return takes on Raonic's serve in Wimbledon final
LONDON >> Milos Raonic is as good a server as there is in tennis nowadays.
Andy Murray is one of the top returners.
How that matchup plays out in the Wimbledon final Sunday could go a long way toward determining who wins the championship.
The sixth-seeded Raonic heads into the first Grand Slam title match of his career — and the first for a man representing Canada — having won 116 of his 121 service games (96 percent) across six matches.
"Obviously," said Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, "Milos has got a fantastic serve."
Raonic, who added John McEnroe to his coaching staff ahead of the grass-court portion of this season, has hit 154 aces, averaging 251/2 per match. He's faced only 27 break points, saving 22.
In his five-set victory over Roger Federer in the semifinals, Raonic saved 8 of 9 break points.
Not only did the 6-foot-5 Raonic repeatedly top 140 mph in that match, he went as high as 144 mph more than once, and his average first serve of 129 mph was faster than Federer's best offering of 126 mph.
Raonic's serve is speedy and scary, to be sure — British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith called it "ginormous" — but it is also much more than that.
One reason it's so effective is because of his ability to alter velocity and placement.
Against Federer, he would boom one right at the body at upward of 135 mph — emanating a thud that reverberated around Centre Court — then hit an ace out wide at 115 mph that sent up a spray of chalk when it hit a line.
"You don't get in a rhythm," said Sam Querrey, the American who lost to Raonic in the quarterfinals after beating No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the third round. "You go games on his serve where you might get one return in play."
Don't count on that happening too often against Murray.
Take out players who didn't make it past the second round this fortnight, and the second-seeded Murray ranks No. 1 in:
— percentage of returns put in play, 77;
— percentage of second-serve points won, 64;
— percentage of return games won, 36.
Murray — a two-time major champion, most famously becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years — has won his past five matchups against Raonic. Just three weeks ago, Murray won their meeting in the final of the Queen's Club grass-court tournament. Murray dropped the first set, then trailed 3-0 in the second, before beginning the turnaround with a return winner.
"It helps to have played a match against him on the grass," Murray said. "You know, see some of the things he's doing on this surface a little bit differently."
For Murray, this will be the 11th Grand Slam final of his career — and third of this year — but first against someone other than Djokovic or Federer.
Raonic was asked what sort of a boost his debut in a major final might be for Canadian tennis.
"It's great to sort of be at the center and front of that come Sunday. I'm glad that I've sort of been leading this charge, the first one to break through and really put these things together," he said. "But I'm by no means done."
Both times Murray earned a major trophy, Ivan Lendl was his coach. And after a hiatus, they have reunited.
"I don't think it's a coincidence. I obviously had the best years of my career with him," Murray said.
"I obviously wanted to work with Ivan again to try to help me win these events," he added. "That's the goal."
One of eight-time major champion Lendl's rivals during his playing days was McEnroe, who won three of his seven Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon. Lendl won 21 of their 36 head-to-head matchups, although McEnroe won the only time they played at the All England Club, in the 1983 semifinals.
Lendl is expected to be seated in Murray's guest box at Centre Court for the final. McEnroe? Instead of supporting Raonic at courtside, he'll be in the TV commentary booth, calling the match for ESPN.
Freelance writer Sandra Harwitt contributed to this report.