By Chris Oddo/ Sunday, October 6, 2013
Juan Martin del Potro notched his 40th victory of the season and 16th career title in Tokyo, defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets.
Photo Source: AP
Not a whole lot separated Juan Martin del Potro and Milos Raonic in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis final on Sunday, but small differences can mean a whole lot, particularly when two big servers lock horns in a final.
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Juan Martin del Potro was good all day, and excellent when he needed to be in taking out Milos Raonic, 7-6(5), 7-5, for his 16th career title in Tokyo and third title of 2013. Milos Raonic was good all day, and excellent at times, but the rising Canadian made a few big mistakes that ultimately cost him the first set.
Raonic, who entered the match on an eight-match winning streak and was bidding to win back-to-back titles for the first time in his career, had the better of the play for much of the first set, but he failed to convert on three break points in the seventh game against Del Potro. To his credit, Del Potro played a large role in his failure, cracking a huge first serve to erase the first break point, and ripping a forehand off the back of the baseline on the third, but Raonic's netted backhand return on his second break point might have been the one that he let go.
For Raonic, who entered the final having held serve in all 40 service games in Tokyo, a break of serve would have all but locked up the set. Instead, he was forced to play a tiebreaker with a more experienced player.
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After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the breaker, Del Potro elevated his game and took the play to Raonic, sensing the kill. When Raonic double-faulted at 4-5, the 25-year-old Argentine had the window he needed. He hammered another big first serve to take the set two points later.
“There's not really too much to be down about,” Raonic said. “Maybe just that second serve. Maybe that double fault.” The second set was as closely contested as the first, with Raonic time and time again showing off the rewards of his recent success—confidence and aggressive swagger—and playing toe-to-toe with Del Potro.
But Del Potro bided his time and struck just when it looked like another tiebreaker was in the works. He jumped out to a 40-0 lead with Raonic serving at 5-all, and after Raonic saved two break points, Del Potro got one of Raonic's first serves back and proceeded to knock of a crisp forehand volley winner after a long rally to strike the fatal blow.
He would hold serve in the next game, striking a forehand winner past a net-rushing Raonic to seal the victory in one hour and 46 minutes.
Del Potro avenges a controversial loss to Raonic earlier this season, which came in Montreal on a day when the Canadian was criticized for not admitting that he touched the net during a point. The experience rattled Del Potro at the time, and Raonic later went on to apologize.
On Sunday, there was nothing for Del Potro to be upset about. Instead he was smiling, enjoying the fact that he'll be returning to the ATP's top five next week for the first time since 2010.
"I played really well in the last two games of the match, returning all of his first serves," del Potro said. "It was a fantastic week for me as I played better and better with each match."