Milos Raonic says he’s improved – and he’ll find out precisely by how much when he meets Roger Federer in the final of the Brisbane International on Sunday, a rematch of last year’s decider.
Federer paid the big-serving Canadian the ultimate compliment this week, declaring he is one of a handful of rising stars not only capable of cracking into the world’s top five, but of soon breaking through for a maiden grand slam victory.
Twelve months on from Federer’s tough three-set win in the 2015 final at Pat Rafter Arena, that claim will be put to an early test when the pair meets for the 11th time on the ATP Tour following their semi-final victories on Saturday.
Raonic edged Bernard Tomic 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) while a fit-again Federer, who has finally overcome the illness that this week threatened to ruin his Australian Open preparations, dismissed Austria’s Dominic Thiem 6-1 6-4.
Their most recent meeting was in November at Indian Wells – another straight sets triumph for the Swiss veteran, but one that has left him wary as he attempts to claim his 89th ATP title.
“Clearly with a serve like that things are always complicated,” Federer said.
“He’s been looking good. Clearly I respect his game. I think he’s done a lot of progress in the past few years.
“Big serving guys are always just tricky. I usually do a good job of getting the ball back and then finding a way.
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it hasn’t.”
Indeed, Raonic’s lethal serve seems to be in tune, with the 25-year-old firing off 13 aces against Tomic and returning well enough to keep the Australian under constant pressure.
The world No.14 has only ever beaten Federer once before, winning in straight sets in the quarter-finals of the Paris Masters in 2014.
“You know what you want to do against him and what you should do. (But) he can just make this part difficult on you,” Raonic said.
“Each time he can come out playing in different ways and he’s able to do a lot of different things.”
Raonic has vivid memories of last year’s Brisbane final, in which he climbed from a set and a break down to force a third set but then ran out of steam against Federer, who had a partisan crowd behind him as he sought a 1000th career win.
“I had quite a few opportunities at the beginning of the third, and he got the better of me by then,” he said.
“I feel like I’m a better player now, so hopefully I can change around that.”