Wednesday was a day with yet another spectacular sunset in the Coachella Valley, but it was not when Milos Raonic needed to win a tennis match to reach the quarter-finals of the BNP Paribas Open.
Raonic made his fourth Indian Wells quarter-final in as many attempts when his opponent Marcos Baghdatis withdrew due to illness.
“I woke up and felt a bit ill,” the 32-year-old Cypriot said in a statement. “I have some stomach issues. I came to have a hit and didn’t feel myself. I didn’t feel well to go out there.”
There’s a certain irony to Raonic advancing without having to play, because five times in the last 18 months it has been him who has had to pull out.
Here’s the list: semi-final v Dimitrov (Beijing – October, 2016) – ankle; semi-final v Murray (Paris – November, 2016) – quad; final v Sock (Delray Beach – February, 2017) – hamstring; third round v Donaldson (Miami – March, 2017) – hamstring and second round v Sugita (Tokyo after one game October, 2017) – calf.
There were probably other occasions when he shouldn’t have played but did – such as the Rogers Cup last August in Montreal when his left wrist (eventually requiring a surgical procedure) was problematic in an opening-round loss to Adrian Mannarino.
What goes around eventually comes around so Raonic gets a free pass and will now play Sam Querrey on Friday for a spot in Saturday’s semi-finals against either Juan Martin del Potro of Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Raonic met the media about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night after the Baghdatis withdrawal and answered “five minutes ago” to a question about when he had learned his opponent would not be playing their round-of-16 match.
He was not concerned about going two days without playing a match. “Probably it allows me a little bit more freedom to push a bit more in practice and work on some specific things,” he said, “just really focus on playing against Sam.”
Raonic is 2-2 in his career against the No. 21-ranked Querrey. They have only played once since 2013 and Raonic won that one in the 2016 Wimbledon quarter-finals 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4. When it was suggested to him that maybe he liked taking on (big-serving) players like himself and Querrey as opposed to those who prefer getting into long rallies, Raonic disagreed. “I like to play the guys that like to get into rallies,” he said, “because that gives me more chance to do what I want.”
Specifically about the 30-year-old, 6-foot-6 American, he said, “he’s got a great serve and a lot of things he can do take the racquet from you. It’s going to be about staying very disciplined with myself, which is something I need to improve from my last matches.”
Despite being a native Californian, Querrey doesn’t have nearly as good a record at his home-state tournament as Raonic – Querrey is 16-12 in 13 appearances in Indian Wells while Raonic is 18-6 in seven.
Currently Raonic is trying out Goran Ivanisevic (on right above), the 46-year-old Croat who was indisputably one of the most devastating servers in the history of tennis, as his coach. Ivanisevic holds the record for the most aces (1,477) in a single season (1996) and the most aces (212) in one year (2001) at Wimbledon – the year he was champion.
He was a no-nonsense server, just setting up at the baseline and then walloping the ball with a super-fast left-handed motion.
Raonic can sometimes over-analyze his tennis and Ivanisevic seems to be an antidote for that. “I was questioning what do I need to do regarding my body,” he explained discussing his interaction with Ivanisevic. “How can I train without putting it at risk? How much can I train? How much can I do and not do? After that, why isn’t the tennis clicking? What should I be doing more?
“He just kept it really simple. Really, it’s been about just hit the serve. When you decide on a shot – hit it. Don’t half commit to anything. Don’t think too much. Just play.”
Does the fact that Ivanisevic was such a magnificent server help in terms of him sharing his expertise? “Just little things that he would tell himself he sort of translated across to me,” Raonic said about the 6-foot-4 Croat, “which are cues that have been positive. I have been trying to sort of incorporate and use some of them. I don’t think all of them necessarily transfer to me just the way I serve compared to the way he did, but some of them have been definitely positive.”
Likely the most positive thing about Raonic so far at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open has been one phrase he has uttered several times – namely “I’m hitting the ball well.”
That’s the No. 1 thing all tennis players like to be able to say about their games – and it bodes well for his future if he can remain healthy.
Even with just getting through three rounds in Indian Wells, in the updated ATP rankings he has already jumped up from No. 38 to No. 29.
That’s a solid start for him in getting back to having a single-digit number next to his name in the rankings.
After qualifying and then losing in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open to compatriot Félix Auger-Aliassime last Friday, Vasek Pospisil is playing the $75,000 National Bank Challenger in Drummondville, Que., this week. Top-seeded in the event with his No. 85 ranking (the only top-100 player in the field), he advanced to the second round on Wednesday with a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 301-ranked Ante Pavic of Croatia. Pospisil next faces No. 335 Nicolaas Scholtz of South Africa.
Fellow Canadians reaching the second round include Frank Dancevic, Samuel Monette, Filip Peliwo and Brayden Schnur.
In other news from Quebec, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime will be playing the qualifying for next week’s ATP Masters 1000 – the Miami Open. The qualifying begins on Monday, March 19th at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne.
Auger-Aliassime’s good pal Denis Shapovalov was still in Indian Wells as of Wednesday following his second-round loss to Pablo Cuevas last Saturday. He was seen on the large player lawn at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden throwing around a football with his coach Martin Laurendeau.
Shapovalov, who’s currently ranked No. 44 but looks like he’ll slip back to No. 45 as of next Monday, is a direct entry to the Miami Open, the sixth ATP Masters 1000 event of his young career.
The good life for golden agers in Palm Springs is tooling around town in a vintage convertible that’s almost as old as they are!