Andy Murray’s semi-final opponent is full of surprises. One of them came on Rod Laver Arena on Monday, where Milos Raonic eliminated the 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka. Afterwards, Raonic revealed that his preparation had included a visit to Melbourne Museum.
“I saw a lot of Warhol exhibits before,” he said, when asked what he had been looking for. “It was more of the Weiwei installations I wanted to see, especially the Infinite Bicycle one that was in the centre of the museum.”
Raonic clearly has a perspective that extends beyond the confines of locker room, massage table and ice bath. And his inquiring mind is also reflected in the unexpected trappings that he brings on to the court. These include the fabric sleeve that he wears on his serving arm, and which has its own Twitter account. Plus, this season, a new addition: tennis’s first mouthguard.
Murray’s guess was wide of the mark, for Raonic has actually adopted the mouthguard to resolve a chronic issue with his lower back. Yes, you read that right.
“The process is, you go to a dentist who works alongside a chiropractor,” Raonic told The Wall Street Journal last week. “What we found is my jaw would actually rest a little bit to the left. It’s sort of like orthotics but starting from the top. You try to align everything so it sits in the right place, muscles don’t get tense.”
It might sound wacky, but it seems to work. Since the start of the year – when he also recruited Carlos Moyá to fill the coaching vacancy left by the departed Ivan Ljubicic – Raonic has played nine matches and won the lot, beating Roger Federer to win the Brisbane title and then arriving in Melbourne with a new certainty in his stride.
On paper, today’s semi-final might look like an easier match than the one Murray was scheduled to play against Wawrinka, but looks can be deceptive.
Raonic’s first serve is the toughest proposition in this tournament, with a win rate of 83 per cent when he lands it in. And the Canadian has also added a new dimension to his game this year with the quality of his net play, coming in behind that almighty serve no fewer than 53 times in Monday’s fourth-round upset.
“He is much more talented than people think, and than I thought at the beginning,” Moyá told The Telegraph Tennis Podcast. “For sure I am going to try to encourage him to go to the net as much as he can.
“Murray has the experience of the big matches and he knows how to play in those moments, but Milos is playing very well, he is attacking, defending, going to the net. I think Milos is going to have the chance in his hands, but we will see if he can take it, because Murray is such a great competitor, and such a great fighter, a great champion.”
In the same podcast, Jonas Bjorkman – who worked as Murray’s assistant coach last year – gave his own forecast of the match, and leant towards his former client. “Andy is normally extremely good against the big servers to push them to do more mistakes and get more second serves in play,” he said.
“He is extremely good at reading the serves and the toss and the movement of his opponents, especially guys who serve big. I remember that my best friend, Thomas Johansson, played Andy when we were nearly retiring, and he came off the court and he was so furious. Thomas said: ‘I can’t believe it, I can always make aces and big serves but this guy is so frustrating to play, because he gets every single ball back.’ That is the reaction of many people who play Andy.”