Australian Open – Day 12 preview: Murray v Raonic

The contrast between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic is obvious.

Murray is Mr. Monochromatic, wearing shades-of-grey tennis kits on the white-to-black colour spectrum.

Raonic is more edgy, having sported lime, yellow, red and orange gear – all accentuated by his trademark sleeve which, incidentally, has no performance-enhancing benefits. It originated in March 2014 as protection for a heat rash in the California sun.

On court, Murray is fiery and self-abusive while Raonic has become an emotional mummy, not giving away the slightest hint of any inner volcano. As for game styles, Murray is about accuracy and attrition – prodding his opponent in long rallies with tireless tenacity.

Raonic has become the poster boy for quick-strike, power tennis – pounding serves at more than 230km/h, crushing brutish forehands and punctuating rallies with newly-found volleying prowess.

Both also have similarities – formative years practicing the sport indoors because of the harshness of the Scottish and Canadian climates, and spending time in Spain immersing themselves in that country’s tennis culture.

Murray moved there for two years at 15, spending time at an academy in Barcelona. Raonic’s early years on tour were under the tutelage of former Spanish top-40 player Galo Blanco, and he lived much of the time in modest digs in Barcelona.

It was an unlikely partnership, the baseliner Blanco and the uber-attacking Raonic, but it worked as his ranking went from No. 156 to No. 11 in three years before he switched coaches to former world No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic for 2014 and 2015.

Murray made an even bolder move after going through a variety of coaches including eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl. In June 2014, he chose Amelie Mauresmo, the 2006 Australian Open and Wimbledon champion.

That appointment was greeted with skepticism, but the results have been undeniable – the after-effects of back surgery in late 2013 carried over into 2014 for Murray, but last year he achieved a first, a year-end No. 2 ranking.

The tactical dynamic of two players with diametrically-opposed approaches is simple. Raonic’s mantra has always been to impose his big game on opponents, while Murray is a wall of resistance, challenging the man on the other side of the net with his physicality.

In the courtside seats on Friday evening, both will have so-called ‘legend’ coaches, the aforementioned Mauresmo for Murray, and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya, who augments seasoned Italian Riccardo Piatti on the Raonic team after joining two weeks ago.

Murray will likely take to the court with a scruffy growth on his face, while Raonic will be clean-shaven.

The Canadian easily has the more obsessive grooming history. Hair that’s now more or less conventional has by times been short or wooly or heavily gelled. And then there’s the ever-present sleeve. That combination led to a playful Milos motto: “believe in the sleeve, swear by the hair.”

Milos Raonic def. Andy Murray in four
Raonic has had the breathing room of winning the first set in all his matches so far. If he starts well again, Murray will be hard-pressed to get back into the match after what has been an emotionally-draining two weeks for him.

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza def. Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in two
The Hingis-Mirza pairing won both Wimbledon and the US Open last year and is currently on a 35-match winning streak. Call them the Serena Williams of doubles.

How many players in the Aussie Open main draws string their racquets entirely with natural gut strings as in the good old days? According to Aussie Open tournament stringers – not a single player. But there remains one traditionalist – four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters in the Legends events.

Andy Murray v. Milos Raonic
Full-bore offensive versus counter-attacking always produces drama on the tennis court – as long as it’s not too one-sided. If the Scot and the Canadian get it right, it could be a classic at Rod Laver Arena on Friday evening.

There’s a lot being made about 35-year-old Martina Hingis being co-ranked No. 1 in doubles with Sania Mirza. What remains even more amazing is that at the start of her career she won the French Open junior title in 1993 – at 12 years old. That’s an under-18 competition against the world’s best!

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