By Caroline Cameron
Denis Istomin is not a household name.
Here’s what we know: his mother is his coach, he’s No. 61 in the world, and he’s never won an ATP title. And now Istomin is one win away from capturing his first ATP World Tour title. But before he can do that, he has to get past Milos Raonic.
Raonic enters the SAP Open final as the clear favourite. The 32nd ranked player in the world has only lost once this year, he’s the defending champ in San Jose, and he’s already won one title this season.
Just last weekend in Vancouver, Raonic was forced to retire due to a knee injury before his Davis Cup rubber against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tennis.com has reported that Raonic actually had a misread MRI that showed a tear in his tendon. Turns out he just has some misplaced fluid in his knee, which he can play through. And based on his play this week in San Jose, his knee hasn’t been bothering him.
The indoor, hard surface in San Jose is perfect for Raonic’s game. The ball bounces high to his waist, right around his ideal strike zone. And while Raonic’s forehand has been extremely effective, Istomin’s main challenge will be Raonic’s serve.
Reaching nearly 155 mph this week, Raonic’s serve screws around with his opponents return game; it’s hard for them to get any points during Raonic’s service games. If Istomin stands a chance he needs to return well off of Raonic’s second serve, preferably hitting to Raonic’s backhand.
But if Raonic can continue to do well under pressure, open up the court and serve and volley consistently, he’ll easily capture his third ATP title.