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Milos Raonic keeps the points short against Dominic Thiem at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Brain Game: Serve +1 Is Winning Formula For Raonic

Canadian rides his serve and forehand into the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semi-finals

Milos Raonic is not just a serve. Think of him much more along the lines of a “Serve +1”.

Raonic defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6(5), 6-3 on Thursday evening at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, dominating the short points and fusing together his two biggest weapons into one lethal package.

Serve +1 is a ruthless, doubling down strategy of purposefully following the serve with a forehand. Raonic’s primary pattern of play is to then typically match that combination up against a backhand return, and then a defensive backhand on the run.

The percentage breakdown below between hitting a forehand or backhand immediately behind either a first or second serve clearly shows the efficiency of Raonic’s strategy.

Raonic 1st Serves

  • 85% Serve +1 forehand (won 82%)
  • 15% Serve + 1 backhand (won 0%)

Raonic 2nd Serves

  • 64% Serve +1 forehand (won 50%)
  • 36% Serve +1 backhand (won 25%)

Dominic Thiem was not quite as aggressive as Raonic pursing the Serve +1 forehand strategy, but it still delivered a higher winning percentage for him when he did employ it.

Thiem 1st Serves

  • 74% Serve +1 forehand (won 53%)
  • 26% Serve + 1 backhand (won 38%)

Thiem 2nd Serves

  • 47% Serve +1 forehand (won 50%)
  • 53% Serve +1 backhand (won 40%)

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Raw speed was used by both players to immediately control the beginning of the point, with Raonic’s first serve averaging 125mph, and Thiem’s not far behind at 116mph. This naturally produced a match dominated by short rallies, with greater than 70 per cent of all points requiring either player to hit a maximum of just two shots in a rally.

Rally Length   

Rally Length

Total Points

Raonic Won

Thiem Won

0-4 Shots

71% (96)

57% (55)

43% (41)

5-9 Shots

24% (32)

47% (15)

53% (17)

10+ Shots

5% (7)

71% (5)

29% (2)


100% (135)



The biggest pool of points by far was in the 0-4 shot range at 71 per cent, with Raonic winning a very healthy 57 per cent (55) of them. Thiem slightly edged Raonic in the mid-length rallies of 5-9 shots 17-15, while the Canadian took the honours in the extended rallies of 10 shots or longer seven to two.

With all forehands in the match, Raonic hit 59 per cent of them cross-court, and 41 per cent down the line. Interestingly, Thiem’s average forehand speed was slightly higher than Raonic’s at 78mph to 77mph. Thiem also edged Raonic in backhand speed as well (excluding slice backhands) at 73mph to 72mph. Once you factor in the slice backhands, both players averaged 68mph, which is a substantial drop of around 10mph compared to forehands.

In the baseline rallies, Thiem felt the magnetism of the baseline more than Raonic did, hitting 25 per cent of shots inside the baseline, compared to just 20 per cent for the Canadian. Raonic made contact with 40 per cent of his shots in the “deep zone”, more than two metres behind the baseline, while Thiem was only back that far 35 per cent of the time.

Raonic’s serve strategy was to take the fastest way home, focusing right down the middle in both service boxes, which also helped provide no angle for Thiem to immediately find Raonic’s backhand with the first shot after the serve.

Raonic 1st Serve Direction

Deuce Court

  • Wide 44%
  • Body 0%
  • T 56%

Ad Court

  • Wide 26%
  • Body 11%
  • T 63%

Raonic now moves through to the semi-finals, where he will undoubtedly continue his Serve +1 onslaught. It’s a proven pattern of play that is almost impossible to stop.

Milos Raonic keeps the points short against Dominic Thiem at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

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