Raonic downs Becker 6-4, 6-4 in Memphis semifinal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Canadian Milos Raonic needed only 75 minutes to beat Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in the semifinals of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and reach his second final in as many weeks.
Raonic won at San Jose last week and is 15-1 in match play this year. Ranked 35th in the world, the ATP World Tour's first multiple winner this season will try to win his third title Sunday against Austrian Jurgen Melzer, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 winner over No. 3 seed Radek Stepanek.
"It's a big thing, especially after the way I've been playing," said Raonic, who lost a three-set final here last year to Andy Roddick on a diving shot on match point.
"I think I'm a much better player, and I've matured a lot so I've given myself the opportunity a lot better. I felt last year I was more so squeezing through the matches and just riding the confidence from San Jose. ... This year I feel like I've been coming out of the matches the better player. And also I have improved. I'm a better player than I was a year ago."
Results bear that out.
The big-serving Raonic has won nine straight matches in straight sets with 66 aces here in Memphis. He has held serve in 40 of his 41 games at the event and was so dominant and efficient that Becker scored only five points off Raonic's serve in each set. Raonic won 29 of his 31 points off his first serve.
On the women's side, Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden won her second career title by defeating Marina Erakovic of New Zealand 6-3, 6-4 Saturday night in the Memphis International. Arvidsson's first title came here in 2006, and she also was a runner-up to Maria Sharapova in Memphis in 2010.
Arvidsson said she felt no pressure playing in a final after her practice partner's 4-year-old godson died Friday of cancer back in Sweden. Her hitting partner returned home earlier this week.
"I was quite relaxed," Arvidsson said. "If I lose, it's just a tennis match."
Becker, playing in his first semifinal since Bangkok in October 2010, had not dropped a set here after being sidelined for six months last year because of an injured left elbow. He felt Raonic's strength in the eighth game of the second set when the Canadian held serve with a 139 mph ace that hit Becker in the back.
"It just happens when you move toward the T," Becker said. "He serves so fast it's tough to react."
Raonic said he always apologizes when his serves hit someone in the crowd or a ball boy.
"When I hit my opponent, I say sorry. But I'm not as sorry," Raonic said.
Each held serve through the first eight games. Then Raonic broke when the German was serving at 15-30 and hit his two-handed backhand into the net on consecutive points. Raonic served out with a pair of aces to take the first set.
The Canadian started the second set by breaking Becker in Game 1. Becker double-faulted down love-15 and didn't score a point off his serve before hitting a forehand wide.
Becker at least held off Raonic's match point by challenging what appeared to be a 127 mph ace for the win. Replay showed the ball landed just past the end line, but Becker's return on the next serve bounced short of the net.
"Very tough because the odds are he doesn't miss very much from the back," Becker said. "He has always one or two service games from my side where he doesn't miss. He moves quite well for his size, so it's tough to actually get him off balance as well. If you don't play aggressive, he gets his chances and he used them today too."
Melzer ousted top seed John Isner in straight sets to reach the semifinals. With his win over Stepanek, Melzer reached his fourth final in the United States and first since 2007 when he lost in Las Vegas to Lleyton Hewitt.
"Well, it's obviously very satisfying," Melzer said.
"I've played a great tournament so far, and reaching that final is something special. I haven't played a final since 2010. It was a tough match today. I mean he's obviously a tricky player. He knows what to do on the court, very offensive at times, just takes back a little bit the speed of his stroke. I had to stay focused. I had to play my game."
Melzer helped Austria advance past Russia in the first round of the Davis Cup two weeks ago and came to Memphis early. He broke his toe when he got caught in a hotel bedspread Feb. 16. Melzer has been icing the toe after each match, and he said the injury only bothers him now when he sprints and stops.
"But the good thing is most of my sliding I do on hard court I do with my left foot so it doesn't ... affect my game," Melzer said.
He improved to 8-3 this year and came to Memphis 38th in the world after back troubles knocked him down after he reached his career-best No. 8 ranking last spring. He opened this year with consecutive first-round losses in Brisbane and the Australian Open before qualifying in Zagreb and reaching the quarterfinals.
Melzer remains undefeated against Stepanek, though this was their first match that went three sets. Melzer broke Stepanek in the seventh game of the first set when the Czech double-faulted at deuce and when Melzer had the advantage, putting the Austrian up 4-3. Melzer then served out for the first set.
"When you lose a match like that you know you have your chances," said Stepanek, who only decided to play in Memphis on Tuesday after being ill. "I gave him a Christmas gift in the first set. You know it was a very poor service game of mine."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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