BRISBANE, Australia – Milos Raonic got one back on Roger Federer to start the new season. After losing coach Ivan Ljubicic to the Federer camp leading into 2016, Raonic achieved something nobody else born in the 1990s has managed to do against the 17-time major winner — beat him twice.
The 25-year-old Canadian broke Federer’s serve once in each set of a 6-4, 6-4 win on Sunday night in the Brisbane International decider, reversing the outcome of their meeting in last year’s final at the Australian Open warmup tournament.
Ljubicic was in Federer’s corner for the final. Carlos Moya, who will join Raonic’s coaching crew, doesn’t arrive in Australia until next week.
He’s got a good base to work off, starting with Raonic’s eighth career title and only his second win in 11 matches against Federer.
It was a boost coming off a troubled end to 2015, when Raonic missed the last three weeks with a back problem, having missed the French Open earlier in the season with a foot injury, parted company with Ljubicic and finished out of the top 10.
“It does great things — it signifies within the team how concrete and good the work we’re doing is,” Raonic said of his win. “At the same time, with the difficulties I’ve had last year, it’s maybe a good way for me to show the other guys I will face going in Melbourne, you know, I’ve got my stuff back together and I can play some good tennis again.”
Raonic attacked top-seeded Federer with his booming serve and forehand, as expected, but also went to the net 13 times in the first set and won 10 of those points to put him on course for the win.
Federer, who went 6-5 in finals in 2015 — with all five losses coming to top-ranked Novak Djokovic — struggled earlier in the week with lingering flu-like symptoms, but improved with four matches in four days, including wins over Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals and Dominic Thiem in the semis.
He started strongly, adding some power to his serve and trying to work the taller Raonic around the court, but couldn’t make the strategy pay off. Federer said Raonic had expanded the dimensions of his game and was tactically more astute than he had been in previous seasons.
Raonic “did well. It was a tough match — (my) legs were a little bit wobbly,” Federer said. “Still, considering the week I’ve had, I’m actually quite happy. That’s why I’m not down or anything or disappointed. “If I would’ve known I would’ve made the finals five days ago I would’ve been unbelievably happy.”
Federer planned to head to Melbourne and rest for a few days before getting into his fine-tuning for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 18.
“The good thing is the off-season was great. I have a base there,” Federer said, “so I think within three, four days I should be back at 100 per cent.”
The match was on serve until the ninth game when Federer served a double-fault to give Raonic a breakpoint chance and then netted a forehand.
Raonic served out the first set, but needed a medical timeout for treatment on his right leg three games into the second.
He fired a succession of double-faults in the next game, giving Federer a breakpoint opportunity, but managed to hold to level the set at 2-2. In the next game, after leading 30-0, Federer gave Raonic another breakpoint chance when he skewed just wide with a forehand down the line and then conceded the break when he netted a backhand.
Raonic didn’t have any trouble holding from there, and wrapped up the match in 1 hour, 27 minutes.
“Hopefully, a better year this year than last,” said Raonic, who reached the quarterfinals at the last Australian Open but didn’t progress past the third round at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open after skipping the French Open with injury. “It was tough. To see myself slip a little bit, even though I knew it was not necessarily strictly to my tennis level but outside things, those things were hard to accept … and in some ways also depressing to deal with.
“Every single year until now my ranking had been going up. That’s the thing I was most proud of. To see that slip was hard to accept and also very motivating.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press