Australian Open 2019: Fitter Milos Raonic’s serve stood him in good stead against a lost Alexander Zverev in fourth round

It was always going to be a strong match-up between Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev, but perhaps many tennis watchers likely expected it to go the way of the young German who has been described by many – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer among them, as a “Future No. 1”. What transpired, in fact, was a fairly one-sided affair that went the way of Milos Raonic, with his coach, tennis maverick Goran Ivanisevic, looking on from the sidelines.

Australian Open 2019: Fitter Milos Raonic’s serve stood him in good stead against a lost Alexander Zverev in fourth round

Canada's Milos Raonic celebrates after beating Alexander Zverev. AP

At the start of the fourth-round match, perhaps nobody would have called the result that eventually transpired. Zverev broke to start the match – perhaps to the hope of his fans that he would quickly capitalize, but that was not to be the case, as he lost eight games in a row right after.

Raonic, who has long struggled with various injuries over the years, looked in fine attacking form, moving all across court, coming to the net with some great shots and perfectly angled volleys that left Zverev flummoxed – and increasingly frustrated with each passing shot.

The only thing that truly saw Zverev’s wrath was his racket, which grew increasingly mangled with the young German’s mounting frustration at losing the form that he never really found during that match. The lanky 22-year-old did move around court and had some flashes of brilliance during the match, but Raonic had already seized control early, and did not let go of it quickly.

Zverev particularly put his great backhand on display, but with his only real attack coming in the third set, perhaps it was too little too late. The pair went neck and neck in the third - leading many to wonder if the match might go to four, or five, and as Zverev pushed on to a tiebreak with some pacey, powerful shots, cries of “let’s go Sascha, let’s go” – much in the mold of the cheers for a certain Roger Federer, intensified. Throughout the match, however, it was Milos Raonic who looked cool, composed, and in control – something Zverev was not able to find. One might call it the folly of youth – Zverev is, after all, still a decade younger than some of his biggest competitors.

Raonic, on the other hand, has never been short on talent – but the Canadian has struggled with physical form and constant injuries that have derailed his Grand Slam campaigns on more than one occasion. Only last year, Raonic struggled with a knee injury that forced him to sit out much of the clay court season, and caused him to sit out the French Open; that same injury would also derail his campaign at Wimbledon, while his back gave him trouble at the US Open. Only the year before, Raonic had been struggling with his wrist.

In fact, ever since he first hit the top-10 in 2013, Raonic has had injury woes on and off. Despite hitting the top-4 in 2015, the Canadian was struggling,  simultaneously, with back, hip, knee and wrist injuries. In spite of this, however, 2016 was perhaps the best year of Raonic’s career: he started the year with a title win at the Brisbane International, defeating Roger Federer, then went on to make the semi-finals of the Australian Open - where an injury forced him to retire up two sets to one against Andy Murray.  Interestingly, Murray would go on to be a thorn in his side throughout that season, beating Raonic at the finals of the Queen’s Club Championships and then at Raonic’s first ever Grand Slam final, Wimbledon 2016.

One thing that has marked Raonic’s career, aside from his mental tenacity, has been the teams he has brought on. In no particular order, the Canadian ace has worked with Ivan Ljubicic, Carlos Moya, John McEnroe, Richard Krajicek and most recently - and currently, Wimbledon wild card winner Goran Ivanisevic. That list reads like a who’s who of tennis - and coaching - so it is no surprise, then, that Raonic is equipped with certain weapons and an all-round attack - that many other players struggle with. Dealing with injuries, and pain and injury management is a key part of being an athlete, and a part of the advice that Raonic will no doubt have benefited from taking from each player.

Despite struggling even in 2018, Raonic this year has appeared to be in the same form he was in when he hit World No 3. Always most successful on hard courts, too, the quick serving ace should be right at home at the Australian Open, where he has made the semi-finals before – again, being ousted by Andy Murray in 2016.

As has been the case throughout his career, Raonic’s serve stood him in good stead against a lost Zverev. Raonic has won a staggering 90.9 percent of his service games – the third-highest of all time, and is tied with Andy Roddick for the fifth-quickest recorded serve recorded so far.

Come Wednesday, Raonic will be pleased with his odds, considering he is up against 24-year-old Frenchman Lucas Pouille; in the three past meetings the pair has had, Pouille has not even been able to win a single set, let alone a match. Interestingly, two of their past three meetings have been on hard courts, both in Australia, one of those at the Australian Open of 2016. That time around, Pouille suffered a first-round, straight sets drubbing to Raonic.

Since then, however, both players have grown older, matured, and in the case of Raonic, had multiple injury breaks and comebacks. However, it is still more than likely that Raonic should take a fairly straightforward win; Pouille, despite having reached the quarter-finals, has had tough fights in each of his matches so far, particularly his fourth-round battle against Borna Coric. Raonic, on the other hand, has seen tiebreaks in each of his matches, but his only real difficult match came against Swiss former US Open winner Stan Wawrinka.

Pouille may have age on his side – and, perhaps, more physical fitness, but Raonic has built on a number of areas that he has, in the past been criticised for. Particularly Raonic, who has been criticised for his movement on court, came up to the net, moved around the baseline, and played an all-court game that truly left his out-of-sorts opponent even more confused. Having built on his shortcomings – and looking in top physical form, there looks to be nothing stopping Raonic from pushing even further through the ranks – apart from potentially, of course, a certain World No 1 and World No 2.

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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2019 10:07:34 IST

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