Milos Raonic advanced to the round-of-16 at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 win over Joao Sousa of Portugal before speaking about needing more discipline in his game.
“I can have one or two bad points on serve but now I’m having three or four,” he said. “I’m not disciplined to stop myself right in the middle of the game and turn it around. A bad point here and there can happen but I believe both games (when he lost serve) I sort of gave away. He (Sousa) did a few good things but in both of them I double-faulted twice.”
One glaring instance of poor discipline was when he dropped serve at 4-all in the opening set. He lost the game on six points and did not make a single first serve.
Fortunately for him he broke back in the very next game and again two games later to wrap up the first set.
A more mundane incident in the second set of his opening-round match against fellow-Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday helps illustrate the kind of thing he’s being self-critical about. A guy in the crowd called out “great shirt, Milos” about his New Balance top. Asked Tuesday if he recalled hearing that voice, Raonic smiled and said, “that’s how you know I don’t have discipline. I can hear those kind of things right now.”
The win over the gritty No. 85-ranked Sousa brings Raonic’s record to 3-3 for 2018 – numbers that say a lot about how little he has played, and how subpar he has been when he has played, as he comes back from a calf and knee injuries late last year.
“I’m just hesitating in the tighter moments of the match,” he said. “Also I’m not recognizing things as quickly, a little bit too passive. It’s that freedom to adapt a little bit quicker during a match that I’m sort of missing.”
He continued on a much more positive note, “hitting the ball and that kind of thing I’m doing just fine.”
“Just fine” also applied to his serving where he won a sparkling 93 per cent of first serve points (39/42).
The 28-year-old Sousa, who is now 0-4 head-to-head with Raonic but has at least won a set in his last two tries, was asked what made the difference in the match. “The serve,” was his immediate response, “it’s always the same with Milos. He serves good. In the third set he served very well. I was not able to serve the same as I did in the second set.”
Sousa, whose career high ranking was No. 28 two years ago, was not impressed with Raonic taking a bathroom break after he lost the second set.
“This kind of tactic I will never understand,” he said. “Every player is free to do whatever they want. I never wanted to go to the toilet when I’m playing because I’m sweating so much. If I have some digestive problems, then I go. But I don’t think that was the case with Milos. He wanted to do that – it’s his right. It’s a tactic that he used – good for him.”
Raonic insisted it was a matter of something more immediate. “I need to relieve myself,” he said. “I’m not going to start whipping out empty ball cans in the middle of the court. I’d rather do it the gentlemanly way.”
On the subject of gentlemen, Raonic faces one, Marcos Baghdatis, in the next round on Wednesday – not before 8:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. ET in Canada) in Stadium 1. The Cypriot beat Dudi Sela 7-6(5), 6-4 Tuesday and then shook hands with the Israeli at the net, knelt down and kissed the court and then again shook hands with his opponent and patted him on the back as he exited the court with his bag slung over his shoulder.
Baghdatis spoke later about what good friends he and the 32-year-old Sela are, invoking the word “brother” to describe their relationship.
Now 32 himself, and ranked No 102, Baghdatis struggled mightily in 2017 with a foot injury and then a back problem late in the year.
He spoke about not taking enough time to properly heal his injuries over the course of his career, but says he’s fit now and highly ambitious. Though toward the end of his career, he spoke about aiming to get back into the top-10 – he was as high as No. 8 around the time he made the 2006 Australian Open final and lost to Roger Federer. Now he says a goal of his is to finish in the top eight and qualify for the year-end ATP Finals in London.
He first broke into the top 100 in 2005 and has seen many a big server like Raonic over the years. “I’ve played a lot of them and it’s tough,” he said. “It doesn’t give you any rhythm – especially with my game liking to have rhythm. They go for their shots. I’ll talk to my coach and we’ll figure out how to find a way to win.”
Raonic beat Baghdatis 7-6(7), 6-3 in Washington last summer and is 3-1 with him over their careers, but their three other meetings were in 2012 or earlier.
Baghdatis qualified for Indian Wells and has now won five matches in all – including a 7-5, 6-4 victory over dogged Diego Schwartzman, the No. 14 seed, in the second round.
“He’s played a lot of matches this week,” Raonic said about Baghdatis, “so he’s playing well.”
Raonic himself went through a lot in 2017, most of it not pleasant as he battled a string of injuries – right adductor (January), right hamstring (February), left wrist (August), right calf (October) and right knee (November).
Speaking about the effect of the various ailments, he said, “maybe I get a little more cautious because they never go away completely. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a nag – especially somewhere where you’ve had surgery. Something always comes up, so maybe you become a little bit but more cautious. Let’s say my other wrist was hurting and it’s a little bit of a nag – then I won’t think about it twice. The left one (after a surgical procedure in August) it causes a bit more stress. I’ve gone through a lot of different things. They keep coming back but I can get past them and hope that they stay away as long as possible.”
The end result of Raonic’s travails last year is a ranking that has tumbled from a peak of No. 3 in November, 2016, to its current No. 38. His two wins this week will probably move it up to at least No. 34. Thinking big – if he could win the BNP Paribas Open title he could get back into the top-15.
What are his feelings about the No. 38 currently beside his name in the ATP rankings? “I prefer not to talk about it,” he said, not without a touch of humour. “When people ask me ‘what’s your ranking today?’ It’s not my proudest moment.”
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan advanced to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open doubles on Tuesday with a 7-6(7), 5-7, [12-10] win over Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain.
But they came a millimetre or two from losing. With them facing match point trailing 9-8 in the deciding match tiebreak, Klepac hit a deep lob that landed close to the baseline and was called good. But it was challenged by Dabrowski and Xu. When the Hawk-Eye image came up on the courtside screen (see below), it appeared to have caught the back of the line and Klepac and Martinez Sanchez celebrated what they believed was a win by embracing. Xu also appeared to think things were over but Dabrowski was less convinced.
Finally umpire Manuel Absolu of France (speaking to Klepac and Martiniez Sanchez above) announced that the call had been over-turned and that the score was 9-all.
“When I was looking at the screen, from far away it looked like the ball was in,” Dabrowski said. “But the closer they zoomed in you saw it was actually out. That’s why I think they (Klepac and Martinez Sanchez) celebrated a little bit prematurely. I waited until the last minute to see if it was in or out. Julie (Yifan) thought it was over because they celebrated and I was like ‘c’mon.’ She was walking to the net and I was like ‘no-no-no, we’re not done yet.’”
When played resumed Klepac and Martinez Sanchez won the 9-all point on an overhead from Martinez Sanchez before Dabrowski saved the ensuing match point with a crisp poach off a Klepac service return.
Two points later Dabrowski and Xu had the win and spot in the semi-finals.
It was a remarkably seesaw contest with Klepac and Martinez Sanchez leading 3-0 and 5-3 in the opening set before losing it. In the second, it was Dabrowski and Xu up 4-1 before their opponents rallied.
“It was incredibly close, probably not the greatest tennis from all of us,” Dabrowski said. “But we all fought really, really hard and we tried to put them in uncomfortable positions and they tried to put us in uncomfortable positions. Martinez Sanchez played super-solid – volleys, overheads, she really didn’t give us much. I think Klepac got tight in the first set that’s why we were able to come out on top. Then, with the lead in the second set, we got a little bit sloppy. They raised their level. Andreja relaxed and that helped her swing out on her shots more and put us on our back feet more.”
“Overall, Julie and I (getting a visit from coach Scott Davidoff above) worked so well together, no matter what the score was. In the end, it could have been either one of us winning. We’re just lucky to come out with the win.”
Told that she and Xu would played the winner of unseeded teams Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia and Vania King of the U.S. versus Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, a surprised Dabrowksi responded, “they’re not seeded? They probably should be. In a previous year they might have been seeded, and seeded quite high. I won’t take the seed into consideration, just the players.”
It will be Hsieh and Strycova after they beat King and Srebotnik 6-4, 6-1.
These are the real ‘snowbirds.’ This group of Canada geese are feeding on the grass at a driving range just off Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert. They tend to exhibit the same attitude about humans that they’ll have when they arrive in Canada in a month or two – belligerent and defiant.
Feature photo by: Mauricio Paiz