As Milos Raonic pushed a forehand wide, Marin Cilic sensed his chance. In a rare occurrence, the Croat had been able to negotiate Raonic’s serve, engage him in a rally and draw three forehand errors on the trot. He went up 15-40 up in the 10th game, hoping to get a timely break for 6-5. But the 6-foot-5 Canadian breathed in, and huffed out the sliver of a chance with three aces on the trot, starting with a stinging 225 kph strike down the middle. He then put away a forehand winner to seal the game.
In his four matches at the Australian Open, Raonic has not dropped a set; heck, he has not dropped his serve even once. On Sunday morning, he continued with his devastating serving form during a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 victory over former finalist Cilic.
“It feels pretty damn good, I’ve got to say,” said the Canadian, who made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the second year running.
When he’s hitting his serves with such pace and precision, the 29-year-old is pretty much untouchable. And Stefanos Tsitsipas, one of the most exciting young talents on the tour, learnt about it the hard way as he failed to muster a single break point against Raonic in the third round. “I felt a bit stupid returning his serves,” said the introspective Greek after seeing 19 aces zoom past him.
Raonic was even more destructive against Cilic, sending down 35 aces to take his tournament total to 82. But the Canadian, whose best performance in Melbourne has been a semi-final finish in 2016, proved he’s more than a one-trick pony, cracking 55 winners against Cilic.
Make it seven straight years that 🇨🇦 Milos Raonic has made it to at least one major quarterfinal
When healthy, he is always a factor
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 26, 2020
Though Raonic has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world and has finished quarterfinals or better at Grand Slams ten times before this, the Canadian’s run at the Australian Open this year has been unexpected. With the tennis world more focused on his compatriots, and young guns, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, Raonic has happily flown under the radar. He has slipped out of the top-30 as he spent the past couple of years tending to injuries.
The Canadian has undergone three surgeries so far: right hip surgery in 2011, right foot surgery in 2015 and left wrist surgery in 2017. In 2019, he was forced to pull out 12 events, including the French Open and the US Open, due to multiple injuries: back, right knee, hip and glute. In his only match of 2020, before coming into the Australian Open, Raonic went down to Frenchman Corentin Moutet in two tie-break sets in the second round of the Qatar Open.
In Melbourne, however, Raonic, sporting bright yellow tee, has been in sparkling form.
“I’m just happy to be out here, to be feeling well and to be playing good. I haven’t gotten to do this that much over the last few years, so it means a lot to me,” he said on Sunday.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 26, 2020
After knocking out sixth seed Tsitsipas on Friday, the Canadian had stated, “I think when I have had the freedom to really focus on my body, not go from tournament to tournament, focus on training and doing my things well, and allowing myself to get confidence through that work, I have always managed to put things to a pretty presentable level I can be happy with. From there on you've got to go out on court, fight, and it worked out well.”
His fourth round clash against Cilic was billed as the battle of the big servers. The Croat, one of the few active players outside of the Big 4 to have won a Grand Slam, is a formidable hitter of the tennis ball but has been going through injury troubles of his own. He dropped down to No 39 in the world rankings in November, 2019, which was his lowest since October 2013.
Cilic was scripting his own comeback story in Melbourne this time round, scripting draining five-set victories over Benoit Paire (seeded 21) and Roberto Bautista-Agut (seeded 9) in the second and third rounds respectively. But on his return, Cilic’s serve speed has dropped noticeably, which means he can’t start dictating the points right from the get-go.
Raonic on potentally facing Djokovic next.
"I think that I will need to hit more than 34 aces".
Milos never beat Djokovic (and they faced a lot of times)
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 26, 2020
Though he fired only five aces past Raonic on Sunday, the Croat had started the match promisingly, holding his first three service games at love. Powering through both the flanks, Cilic had his opponent in a spot of bother in the seventh game, when he ripped across a backhand winner to take it to deuce and had two chances to break in the seven-minute game. But Raonic held strong through his serve. A closely-fought first set finished with a poor service game from Cilic, who threw in a double fault and three forehand errors to lose the set 4-6.
Having weathered the storm in the first set, and having plated just enough doubts in Cilic’s mind, Raonic breezed through the second and was largely undisturbed on his serve in the third. The Canadian dropped only six points on his serve in the second set, and seven in the third to storm into the quarterfinals.
His serve might be sizzling, but it will be thoroughly tested two days later as he takes on Novak Djokovic, who has the best return game in the business. In their nine meetings, including a quarterfinal clash in Melbourne in 2015, Raonic has never managed to beat the seven-time Australian Open champion.
“I think I’m going to have to hit more than 35 aces,” said the Canadian of the battle ahead.
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Updated Date: Jan 26, 2020 14:55:21 IST