Milos Raonic’s first strike of the 2017 Australian Open was a 225 km/hr (140 mph) serve that didn’t come back. Raonic held easily in that opening game and it was the beginning of what turned out basically to be a routine 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Dustin Brown.
The only real uncertainty was that it took Raonic six break points until he was finally able to take the No. 66-ranked German’s serve in the eighth game – on a double fault.
Dreadlocked Dustin and his ‘Dreddy tennis’ had no answers on the day. Later he was generous in his praise of Raonic. “Milos served unbelievable,” said the 32-year-old. “The one or two games I was in the right corner returning well I still basically had no chance of breaking him. There was one break point and I decided to stand a little further back to get time to get to the ball and he hit a really good kick serve. I think that’s pretty much the story of the match. He served way too well which allowed him to be more aggressive on my serve.
“And most of the time he returned really well and kind of forced me to go for a little bit too much or more on second serves. The two games where I was broken in the first two sets there was at least one double fault in there.”
Summing up, Brown said, comparing Raonic on Tuesday at Melbourne Park in Margaret Court Arena with the player who beat him 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 on Court 17 at the US Open last August, “he played on a totally different level compared to that match.”
Even the normally self-critical Raonic was fairly kind to himself. After saying something from his usual repertoire – “I did what I needed to do” – he added, “(I’m) stepping up and taking care of my return games (70 per cent of his returns in play compared to just 49 per cent for Brown) throughout the whole year so far, and the end of last year.
“It hasn’t been really coming down to many tiebreaks.”
Raonic got into analysis of his improving returning, saying, “before I used to sort of hit the return and try to rush over to the side in a sort of defensive mindset. Now it’s a lot more important I hit a good return and take my time. If I hit a good return, I won’t have to rush over to the other side.”
In the second round on Thursday, Raonic will take on Gilles Muller, currently at a career-high ranking of No. 28 after winning the Sydney ATP 250 tournament last Saturday.
All of Raonic’s numbers were good on Tuesday – including hitting 18 aces, saving all three break points he faced, going 19/26 (73%) at the net and winning 8 of 12 serve-and-volley points during the one hour and 33-minute contest.
There was one statistical anomaly – his fastest first serve was 229 km/hr (142 mph) and his fastest second serve was 235 (146 mph). Raonic offered a simple explanation – “I think was up 40-15. I had some space to go for it a little bit.”
It was Raonic’s first match back at Melbourne Park since his “heartbreaking” (his own words) loss to Andy Murray in last year’s semifinals when he aggravated his right adductor and was diminished after taking a two-sets-to-one lead. “As painful as it was,” Raonic said about that match and his ongoing quest to win a Grand Slam, “you sort of understand that there is that other side of the spectrum where you can have that kind of joy if you can go through on those moments. So it’s something I’m definitely itching to experience and obviously this is the tournament that – yes I made the final of Wimbledon last year – but this is a tournament I’ve performed consistently my best at throughout my career.”
Margaret Court Arena, and Rod Laver as well, has the capability of showing videos and images on the back-screens around the court. It resulted (above) in some interesting looks during one of the Raonic – Brown change-overs.
At the end of his media conference Tuesday, Raonic did himself proud in terms of his knowledge of pop culture. Asked what he knew about the recently deceased Canadian songwriter, performer, poet and author Leonard Cohen, Raonic, who is 57 years younger than Cohen who died at 82 in November, replied, “well not so much his literature. I was actually surprised reading about him how many books he actually wrote. I’m sure when most people mentioned his name they were completely or pretty unaware of (that).
“I liked his music for a long time but I really wasn’t too aware of his philosophy. I guess, in a sad way, I do like the darker perspective on music.”
Pressed to come up with a favourite song, Raonic didn’t hesitate. “‘So Long Marianne,’ and ‘Bird on a Wire,”” he replied.
On a day when the thermometer in Melbourne reached 37 degrees, Peter Polansky fell victim to the heat, retiring in the fifth set of his opening round against No. 30 seed Pablo Carreno Busta with the score 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 3-0 RET. The 25-year-old Spaniard was lights out in the first set, playing hyper-aggressively and hardly missing a ball. He came down to earth in sets two and three and Polansky, with the help of some super serving, gained a two-sets-to-one lead.
But he was already feeling the effects of the heat in the second set and by the fourth he was in big trouble. Carreno Busta also seemed to dip but he didn’t suffer nearly as much as Polansky.
Treated on court for a tweak in his back after the second set, Polansky later insisted it had not been a problem as the match continued. Instead it was the scorching weather that took its toll. “I was overheating and towards the end of the second set I was starting to feel a little bit dizzy,” he said, “and I was trying to use the ice towel and take my time. But I was serving really well so I was like ‘just hang on with your serve and maybe you’ll get a break,’ and I did.
“But at the end of the third set I felt completely gassed. I knew it was going to be tough to close that match out.
“I’d take one or two steps and feel like I’d pass out – like completely pass out. We had a couple of long rallies in the second set and it took a lot out of me. I was trying so hard to fight but I couldn’t do it. It’s weird, it’s just like my body just physically couldn’t do it.
“It was a little bit hotter when I played in Adelaide about a week-and-a-half ago –it was 42 and I lost to (19-year-old world No. 290) Omar Jasika (of Australia) in the quarter-finals there. We played two sets and I think I lost 3 and 2 and I was completely done after that match too. It’s tough when it’s this hot – it’s like playing in a sauna. It’s tough to run around side to side when you’re playing in a sauna.
“I think my fitness level throughout my career has been pretty high – but it was just an issue of internally overheating a little bit and I couldn’t get that temperature down. I couldn’t stay cool.
“At the end I was like ‘why am I killing myself?’ I might fall over so just finish it.”
Now 28 and ranked No. 132, Polansky said he will likely play a Challenger event in Maui, Hawaii, next week.
With the 20 points he gained from qualifying and reaching the first round, his ranking should move up to about No. 125, which is getting close to his career best of No. 122 attained in 2014.
Genie Bouchard will play her second-round match in Hisense Arena on Wednesday against No. 83-ranked Peng Shuai of China.
In their only previous meeting Bouchard easily handled the 31-year Chinese 6-2, 6-2 at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in 2014.
A Chinese reporter said that Peng would be pleased to play Bouchard in 10,500-seat Hisense Arena because otherwise she would probably have been consigned to some obscure back court. As well, Hisense is a prominent Chinese company which manufactures white goods and electronics.
The match is third on starting at 11 a.m. so it would probably begin somewhere between 11 p.m. and midnight ET on Tuesday in Canada.
Bouchard is 11-3 lifetime at the Australian Open, her best record at any of the Grand Slams, and she reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park in 2014 and the quarter-finals in 2015, both times losing to Maria Sharapova.
The weather should be more clement than on Tuesday, with a forecast high of only 21 degrees.
Doubles gets underway on Wednesday with Gabriela Dabrowski and her partner Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands playing Oksana Kalashnikova of Georgia and Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.
In men’s action, No. 12 seeds Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek will debut against Aussie wild cards Matthew Barton and Matthew Ebden.
The fine photographer Mauricio Paiz resides in Florida and was in Plantation last week for the ITF Futures event and kind enough to send along the above picture of Félix Auger-Aliassime. The 16-year-old Montrealer reached the final of the Plantation tournament before losing 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 6-0 to No. 595-ranked Roberto Cid Subervi, 23, of Dominican Republic. Auger-Aliassime led by a set, 5-3 and 30-15 when he double-faulted and then never seemed to recover.
At age 16, that’s just another learning experience for the current US Open junior boys champion. This week the No. 614-ranked Auger-Aliassime played the ITF Futures event in Sunrise, Fla., but withdrew after winning his second-round match in the qualifying.
Wilson is the official ball of the Australian Open, so it has to be viewed as somewhat cheeky that Slazenger, the Wimbledon ball since 1902, has plastered an ad all over a Melbourne tram.
The No. 70 here was on Swan Street last week just a few stops from Melbourne Park.