by Kevin Craig
Andy Murray is into his fifth Australian Open final after defeating Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 on Friday in Melbourne. Murray ended Raonic’s undefeated start to the season, as the Canadian had won nine matches in a row to start off 2016. Murray will go on to face Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open for a fourth time, the most recent of which came in 2015 with Djokovic winning in four sets.
The eagerly anticipated semifinal match between the No. 2 seed and the No. 13 seed got off to a start that not many people would have expected. Raonic broke Murray at love to start off the match, before fighting back from a 0-40 whole on his serve to get the hold and go up 2-0. There’s not much else to say about the first set, other than that Raonic had another break chance at 4-2, but Murray snuffed it out. Too little too late for Murray, as Raonic cruised on his serve throughout the set to take the early lead.
The second started very tight as Murray had break points in two of Raonic’s first three service games, but was unable to convert on any of them. Raonic struggled to make an impact on Murray’s serve throughout the duration of the set, winning only six points on Murray’s serve. Being able to relax on his own serve allowed Murray to continue to apply pressure on Raonic’s serve, opening up a break chance in the 12th game of the set. Murray would not miss out on this opportunity, as he took it and the set to level the match.
Five holds at love started off the third set as both players appeared to settle down a bit now that the match was back at even. Only once in the set did a returner get past 30 in a game, and that was when Raonic took Murray to deuce at 5-5 and saw a break point. Raonic failed to convert on that, but when the set went to a tiebreak, he was ready to pounce on the big points, taking it 7-4 and going up two sets to one.
The experienced Murray didn’t let the disappointment of dropping the third set get to him, as he waited for an opportunity in the fourth set to take advantage of. It took a while, as once again the servers dominated and the returner got past 15 only once in the first six games of the set, but when Raonic played one poor service game at 3-3, Murray was all over it and broke at love to take the lead. The last three games of the set all went to deuce as Raonic had three opportunities to get back on serve in the set, but Murray played too well for Raonic and closed out the fourth set to even the match up again.
Raonic’s window to get the win appeared to close as the fourth set ended as Raonic quickly found himself down 4-0 in the fifth set. The Canadian appeared to be hindered by a groin injury throughout the match, but the pain intensified as the match approached the end. Murray took advantage of Raonic’s inability to move as well as he had been, jumping out to the double break lead and not looking back, only losing one point on serve in the deciding set.
Murray’s consistent level of play and tough defense proved to be too much for Raonic throughout the match, as Murray hit only 28 unforced errors, 50 less than what Raonic hit. Murray also applied a lot of pressure on Raonic’s second serve, as Raonic won only 44 percent of the points on his second serve.
Despite the loss, Raonic has proved to the tennis world that he has made the necessary improvements to compete at the highest level of tennis. With wins over Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka already in 2016, combined with this valiant effort against Murray, the rest of the ATP will be on the lookout for the big hitting Canadian.
Murray will now take advantage of the much needed day of rest after having to battle Raonic for over four hours, before taking on Djokovic in the final. Murray has played Djokovic in five of the nine grand slam finals that he has played in, but has not been able to beat him in the three finals they’ve played in Melbourne. Murray did come out victorious at the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013, and will hope to replicate those results on Sunday night in Rod Laver Arena.