Ryan Harrison stood 6 feet behind the baseline waiting for another one of the fastest serves on the planet to come his way. He took one step left, and the ball zipped right — at 150 mph.
"I just looked at it like, 'Geez, that was fast,'" he said.
Never had a chance.
Defending champion Milos Raonic ripped 20 aces to reach his second straight SAP Open final Saturday, beating Harrison 7-6 (4), 6-2. The match took only 78 minutes, with Harrison unable to solve the 6-foot-5 Canadian's punishing, powerful serve in the comfortable conditions of an indoor arena.
"I think I got a few free points today," Raonic said.
Just a few.
After Raonic's rapid rise stalled last year with a slip at Wimbledon, he's making his way back from hip surgery through a similar path. Raonic has dropped only two service games in two years at San Jose and his baseline game is only growing stronger.
"It was all really new to me last year. I felt it all flew by really quickly," said Raonic, now 21 years old. "Whereas now, going through all these things again and playing well and everything, I feel like I know how to deal with it all. There's not stress around it."
Raonic will play Uzbekistan's Denin Istomin — who upset Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals — on Sunday. Istomin beat Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 to move into only his second ATP Tour final and first since 2010.
If Istomin wants to make it a match against Raonic, he'll have to solve the serve.
Raonic relied on his serve to force a first-set tiebreaker, smacked two winners past the 19-year-old Harrison for a break in the second set that gave him a 3-1 lead and leaned on his serve the rest of the way.
The future of American men's tennis remains on hold.
Harrison, tabbed as one of the country's promising young players, is still searching for his first ATP Tour final. He has lost three times in the semifinals, including twice last year to Mardy Fish in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Fresh off a Davis Cup debut that helped the U.S. sweep Switzerland in the first round last weekend, Harrison surged to the semifinals in impressive fashion. He was the first teenager to reach the semifinals at San Jose since eventual champion Andy Murray in 2006 and 2007, and he did it all despite an out-of-whack body clock from the 6,000-mile journey through nine time zones — not to mention switching from clay to indoor courts and coming down from altitude.
Not that it mattered.
Raonic ripped serves past Harrison from the start, with neither player able to break the other in the first set. In the tiebreaker, Raonic rested on his serve even more.
After Harrison's first forehand landed long for an instant minibreak, Raonic zipped two aces — one up the middle, another out wide. Then he struck a backhand passing shot down the line on the American's serve, clipping the net and sneaking in for a 4-0 lead that propelled him in the first set.
"If he served like that against anybody, it's going to be a nightmare to break," said Harrison, who has played against Raonic since the American was 14 years old. "It doesn't matter who he plays. Whenever he's serving like that, it's going to be a tough match for any of the top guys — Roger, Rafa, Novak — all the guys that are the best in the game."
In the only break point of the match for Harrison, he flicked a forehand return wide at 1-1 in the second. Raonic then broke Harrison's serve in the next game with a pair of bold baseline winners.
The rematch from a more famous California tournament turned out to be a complete runaway indoors. Harrison beat Raonic 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 in the third round at Indian Wells last year but couldn't touch the hard-serving Canadian in such climate-controlled conditions.
Suddenly, Raonic is back on the rise.
Raonic rose to as high as No. 25 in the rankings last year — the highest ever for a Canadian — before his season derailed on Wimbledon's grass. He still earned ATP Newcomer of the Year honors after his first title at San Jose.
Raonic, who mimicked 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras' serve as a kid, now has another chance to match his childhood idol: He's one win away from becoming a back-to-back champion in San Jose — something Sampras did with victories in 1996 and 1997.
"I think there are a lot of similarities. It's pretty fluid for both," said Raonic, now ranked 32nd. "I still think there's a lot more work I need to do to serve as well as him."
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