By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – Since Andy Murray’s memory is as razor sharp as his service returns, he will not have forgotten the parting shot he received from Milos Raonic when they last played.
“Next time I’m going to try to serve through him!” the Canadian sharp shooter warned.
Three weeks after losing a three-set tussle to Murray at Queen’s Club, Raonic will get a chance to execute his plan as the two clash in Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
Over the past fortnight, anyone brave enough to stand in Raonic’s firing line has been flatted by a series of 140 mph missiles.
The man with the golden arm tops the list for aces (137) and fastest serve (144 mph) at this year’s tournament after he pole-axed Roger Federer for the first time in a major to became the first Canadian man to reach a grand slam final.
Now the sixth seed wants to make sure all his hard work does not unravel in the final as he faces a rival who he called tennis’s “premier workaholic”.
“The biggest challenge for me, (is not to get) sucked into his game,” said the 25-year-old, who trails Murray 3-6 in head-to-head meetings.
“Andy will try to throw you off, give you some slower balls, some harder balls, all these kinds of things.I guess my goal is to keep him away from that, play it on my terms, be aggressive, not hesitate.”
In the era of super-coaches, Raonic has the luxury of relying on not one, but two former grand slam champions in the shape of Carlos Moya and three-times Wimbledon champion John McEnroe. Adding the American to his team for the grasscourt season has proved to be a masterstroke.
“Milos has got the type of game when he can take the racket out of anyone’s hand. That’s what he did against Federer,” said McEnroe.
“You can see how badly Milos wants it and how deep he is willing to go. Against Murray he will have to serve big and go for it.”
While the Canadian’s work ethic has come a long way since his childhood days, when he said he would “hit tennis balls from the standing position for two hours” as he was “too lazy” to move, Murray likes nothing better than to put in the hard work in training.
Those behind-the-scenes sweat sessions propelled the Briton into a third Wimbledon final and his 11th overall.
But playing in an era when Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have snared 43 slams between them, Murray has had to make do with winning just two titles — at the U.S. Open in 2012 and the All England Club in 2013.
With such a poor success rate in the finals, Murray will be eager to capitalize on the chance to face someone other than Djokovic, who surprisingly perished in the third round, or Federer in a title showdown.
At the same time, the number two seed is aware of the threat posed by Raonic.
“Obviously, first time I’ll play a slam final against someone that isn’t Roger or Novak.So, yeah, that’s different,” said Murray, who was runner-up to Djokovic in this year’s Australian and French Open finals.
“Milos is a very tough opponent.He’s played very well on the grass this year and has earned his right to (be in) the final by beating one of the best, if not the best, player ever at this event.
“But I’d love to win it again. These tournaments are why I’m still playing and why I’m training hard and trying to win these events.That’s what really motivates me,” added Murray, who has a 2-0 record over Raonic in grand slams and has won their last five meetings.
Rekindling his coaching partnership with Ivan Lendl, who guided Murray to his two previous major triumphs, has also added an extra dimension to his game.
“From the beginning of the tournament Murray’s been playing better than anyone else. He has been playing better than he ever has, he’s got more confidence and adding Lendl has added that touch more belief,” said McEnroe.
At 29, Murray knows that these opportunities will eventually run out and he will be eager to make it count, especially since he can rely on an army of 15,000 Centre Court fans to cheer him all the way to the finishing line.
“The older you get, you never know how many more chances you are going to have to play in grand slam finals so you want to make the most of your opportunities,” said Murray.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)