Head to head: Milos Raonic, John Isner as close as it gets

Milos Raonic of Canada returns to Mackenzie McDonald of the U.S. during their men's singles match at Wimbledon. (Ben Curtis/AP)

Milos Raonic is into the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the third straight year but this time around he’s facing someone eerily similar to him.

American John Isner is tall, has a powerful serve and is still looking for his first Grand Slam. Raonic is all of those same things.

But only one can win and advance to a likely meeting with the ageless Roger Federer. So who has the edge between Raonic and Isner? Let’s take a look.

Milos Raonic John Isner
ATP Ranking 32 10
Head to head 1-3 3-1
Age 27 33
Birthplace Podgorica, Montenegro Greensboro, NC
Height 6’5 6’10
Weight 216 pounds 238 pounds
Handedness Right Right
Backhand Two-handed Two-handed
2018 record 16-7 16-11
Highest career ranking 3 9
Grand Slam titles 0 0

An easy Wimbledon so far

Much has been made about Raonic’s lucky bracket, with star players like Marin Cilic, Gregor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka all being knocked out of the tournament early.

Because of that, Raonic has yet to play a ranked player through four rounds at Wimbledon. In fact, Australian John Millman, currently ranked No. 56 in the world, is the only player Raonic has seen in the top 100 so far.

With lower competition, Raonic has also yet to play a five-set match. That’s huge for someone constantly dealing with injuries. Fatigue shouldn’t be an issue in the later rounds for the Canadian.

But while all of those things should be benefitial to Raonic, he’s facing an opponent who also cruised into the quarterfinals.

Isner has only had one match go beyond the minimum, a five-setter in the second round, and has similarly played lesser competition. The only ranked player Isner has faced so far is 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who Isner swept in Round 4 (but needed two tiebreakers to do so).

This match will be the toughest so far for both players, but a relatively easy path to the quarterfinals means they should still be in peak form.

History says…

Isner has taken three of the four matches these two have played against each other, but Raonic won the most recent meeting in 2016.

That came at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Raonic prevailed 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) in the second round.

While Isner has the win advantage, it comes at the slimmest of margins. A tiebreaker has been needed to settle seven of the nine sets the two of played, including five in a row. Isner won the other two 6-4, once in 2012 and the other in 2013.

They’ve only ever met on hard court, so switching to grass will likely result in a lot of quick points from the hard servers.

As for past success on grass, Raonic is 37-18 for his career while Isner is 39-22.

Again, not much separates these two.


Defence is the difference

Both players bring a lot of power (Isner has 135 aces at Wimbledon so far while Raonic has 117) so quick points will be coming fast and furious.

That’s why defending the serve and finding other ways to score will need to be the strategy for whoever comes out on top.

This is where Raonic has a slight edge, historically, because his return point conversion on grass is better than Isner.

For his career, Raonic has successfully won points on 24 per cent of his opponents’ first serves while Isner has only won 20 per cent. On second serves the pattern holds, with Raonic converting 47 per cent compared to Isner’s 42.

While neither player is great at returning serve (for comparison, Federer scores on 33 per cent of his opponents’ first serves), that will be the only way to get an advantage.

It won’t be easy. Changing your playing style never is. But the best defence is a good offence, and in this case it could be the difference.

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