In an abbreviated encounter – his opponent retiring after the first game of the second set – Milos Raonic reached the round-of-16 at the French Open on Friday with a 6-1, 1-0 ret. victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Raonic used the phrase “sort of gifted me that start” referring to the 33-year-old Spaniard’s first service game when he lost it on the third deuce. Out of the last seven points in that game, four were Garcia-Lopez double faults.
Garcia-Lopez had a talk with Dutch trainer Christiaan Swier at the end of the first set but received no treatment. He continued but decided to stop after playing just one more game.
“I have a grade two tear in the quadriceps,” Garcia-Lopez explained later. “I did it in the first match against Gilles Muller. I was going to retire but in the match I tried to make a lot of winners to keep the points really short and everything was going good. The second round the doctor and the officials told me not to play. But I said ‘why not, I can go on court and do the same?’ With (Marco) Trungelliti it was the same. I tried to make a lot of winners and everything was going good. But today to beat Milos I have to be 100 per cent…so it’s another story.”
Despite the brevity of the match, Raonic saw an improvement from his previous round against Rogerio Dutra Silva when he played a poor first set – including losing his serve twice before rallying for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the No. 79-ranked Brazilian.
“I had more discipline and more aggression from the start than I did in my last match,” he said Friday describing the 28 minutes he spent on Court 2.
Raonic has had his share of bad luck this spring – missing Monte Carlo as he recovered from a right hamstring tear, tweaking his elbow in a loss in the final at Istanbul to Marin Cilic and then having a 30 degree (102 Fahrenheit) temperature and strep throat when he lost to Tomas Berdych in the Lyon semifinals last Saturday. So a quick passage against Garcia-Lopez was a welcome bit of favourable fortune.
“I’ll take when I can have it,” Raonic replied to a question about whether he would like to have played more. “I’ve played a lot over the last weeks.”
In fact, it’s been a rare stretch in his career when he has played four tournaments – Istanbul, Madrid, Rome and Lyon – in a row, a total of 12 matches. Make that 15 matches at five tournaments in a row as of the first week of this year’s Roland Garros.
Most importantly, after basically having injury concerns at every event he has played since last summer’s Wimbledon, he appears fit and ready for the ‘business end’ of the tournament.
Next for him will be No. 21-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 winner over No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov on Friday.
Raonic and Carreno Busta played three times last year with Raonic winning all three – Wimbledon (grass), Beijing (hard court) and Paris-Bercy (hard court) – and losing none of the seven sets played.
Despite the wins, Raonic is wary of the 25-year-old from Barcelona. Paying him one of the best compliments a player can say about a peer: “He’s disciplined. He shows up, he’s there and he doesn’t exit the match. You really have to beat him – take it to him.”
Raonic didn’t really want to discuss how the clay surface could change the dynamic of the match, saying, “if I take care of my half of the court and do my business well, I think I can give myself some pretty good looks.”
Carreno Busta is something of a late bloomer. A few years ago touted as the next prominent Spanish player in the tradition of Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer etc., he achieved a career high ranking of No. 18 last month. He is 11-4 on clay this spring and won the ATP 250 event in Estoril, Portugal (Gilles Muller) four weeks ago.
Asked post-match on Friday about which surfaces he plays best on – he won hard-court titles in Moscow and Winston-Salem in 2016 – Carreno Busta smiled and said, “I think I’m 50 per cent better on clay, 50 per cent better on hard court. On grass, in this moment, I am not good.”
About his approach to Sunday’s encounter with the No. 5-seeded Canadian, he said, “I will try to return as much as possible (his) serves, and then try to be solid to play aggressive and try to dominate when we play the points.”
When asked about any secret to returning the Raonic serve, a smile crossed Carreno Busta’s face and he simply said, “it is so difficult. I don’t know the secret.”
Dimitrov, who has a 3-1 head-to-head with Raonic and is now 2-2 with Carreno Busta, commended the Spaniard’s performance against him Friday on Court One saying, “he played a good match today against me. He was going for his shots a lot and he tried to even improvise a little bit at certain occasions. I think this is something that might hurt Milos for sure. But if Milos serves well and plays his game, it’s always tough. It doesn’t matter what surface you’re playing on.”
He added about the Raonic – Carreno Busta match-up, “I think Pablo has quite a bit of confidence right now. He’s been playing well throughout the whole clay court season, and even before that he had good results. For sure after today’s match, he gained even more and more confidence.
“He fights pretty much every point, and he was able to do it over and over again today. And I think it’s going to be an interesting match for either one of them.”
So far at Roland Garros, in contrast to last year’s nightmare of overflowing buckets of rain and cool temperatures, it’s been sunny and dry until some rain late on Friday. It’s supposed to rain a bit Saturday but return to dry weather for Sunday when Raonic takes on Carreno Busta.
“It’s one of those years where it does benefit bigger hitters, the court has been quite warm,” said Raonic (above signing an autograph for kids who had already scored his wrist bands). “I don’t know how the next few days are going to play out. I know there’s supposed to be some wet weather around the corner.
“I’d say of any tournament, this is the one that’s probably the most affected by weather just because it can change the conditions so extremely, considering that there are no roofs and either the courts can be very dry or they can be very damp. These courts can hold a lot of water. It’s been one of those years that’s been a positive trend for me.”
Players usually don’t talk too much about future opponents, but maybe because it was a slow news day and because of the uneventful nature of his win, Raonic was quite expansive when asked about Nadal’s aura and how it might affect him if he had to face the Spaniard, who turns 31 on Saturday, in the year he goes for his 10th French Open title.
“I guess you think about it a bit before the tournament starts,” he said regarding Nadal’s amazing record at Roland Garros, “but as soon as the tournament starts, everybody, despite what it may be like to be a good top-level tennis player, you have to be pretty selfish. I think everyone is focused on themselves quite a bit as long as they are still in this tournament.
“I think before the tournament there is a hype or a buzz, but as soon as people have matches, they have to get to their own things. Everybody’s looking down and going about their business.”
“But then when you do sit down and talk about it, it’s beyond remarkable. It’s going to be one of the greatest, if possible, feats in any sport. I have a little bit more work to do to be able to put myself in that situation, so I’m not looking that far ahead.”
Asked if specifically playing Nadal on clay would be the ultimate challenge for him, Raonic said, “I believe so. You have the best player ever on this surface, which I don’t think will ever be my best surface.”
A win by him over Carreno Busta and a Nadal victory against compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut on Sunday and Raonic might have to pass what even he would probably classify as the most rigorous examination possible for those in his chosen field of endeavour in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Canadians Gabriela Dabrowski and Adil Shamasdin will be in action on Saturday. Dabrowski and partner Xu Yifan of China, seeded ninth, will face the unseeded duo of American Madison Brengle and Anna Smith of Great Britain. It is a second-round match for the 25-year-old Dabrowski and the 28-year-old Xu.
Shamasdin and his 29-year-old Argentine partner Andres Molteni, will face Julio Peralta of Chile and Horacio Zeballors of Argentina. On Friday, the No. 65-ranked (singles) Zeballos moved into the round-of-16 in singles when No. 10 seed David Goffin had to retire with a right ankle injury after getting it caught in the covers at the back of Court Suzanne Lenglen.
This is a shot from close to 10 p.m. last Saturday night of the Place du Trocadéro. It’s amazing how late the light lasts these days.
And about that All Night Bus, which can be booked for private functions. It stops at various locations in the city. People aboard are served champagne and the bus is roomy enough for dancing.
NOTE: No blog on Saturday – back for Raonic – Carreno Busta on Sunday.