It’s down to the final eight in Melbourne and as Canada’s Milos Raonic continues his run at the Australian Open, the 26-year-old is set to face his biggest challenge yet.
Third-seeded Raonic takes on No. 9 Rafael Nadal of Spain in the quarter-finals not before 7:30 p.m. in Melbourne (3:30 a.m. ET) on Wednesday. Get all caught up on what you need to know ahead of their big showdown below:
The marquee match also sees Raonic square off against former coach, Carlos Moya. This is Nadal’s first major event with the former world No. 1 in his corner.
“I believe a lot in specifics training,” Moya told Spanish newspaper El Espanol in an interview earlier this month. “It’s something I used with Raonic, and adapting a lot of those exercises to Nadal is important because they are completely distinct players.”
Moya held a spot on Raonic’s team for about a year but following the Spaniard’s departure, Raonic quickly filled the void. He appointed Richard Krajicek to his team, to join full-time coach Riccardo Piatti. Krajicek, who captured the title at Wimbledon in 1996, is known for his aggressive grass-court playing style. Like Raonic today, Krajicek also boasted a booming serve known to rattle opponents.
One month into the partnership, and it might be too early to gauge just how much of an impact Krajicek has really had on Raonic’s success Down Under. But the Thornhill, Ont. product has produced solid results at the net so far in Melbourne.
Beyond that, it’s Raonic’s adamant determination to improve on weaknesses in his game that truly shows his drive. He brought on John McEnroe as a consultant for the 2016 grass season and to work with on his volleys before adding another grass expert to the squad. The world No. 3 has not shied away from singling out elements of his game, and then calling on the sport’s best to help him improve.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion may own the 6-2 head-to-head record on Raonic, but it certainly won’t be a cakewalk tonight for Nadal.
Raonic took two of their last three meetings. He and Nadal even faced off in a quarter-final earlier this month in Brisbane. Raonic battled back after dropping the first set to complete a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in the Aussie Open tune-up.
Nadal certainly isn’t underestimating his upcoming opponent and acknowledged the challenge in his press conference following his fourth round win over Gael Monfils.
“I think [it’s] going to be a tough match for me. In Brisbane, he beat me. But at the same time, [it] is true that I have been close,” Nadal said.
“He’s an opponent that [makes] you feel that you’re playing with a lot of pressure all the time, because his serve is huge and he’s playing very aggressive from the baseline. I need to be very focused with my serve and play aggressive. If I am not playing aggressive, then I am dead.”
With his fourth-round win over Monfils, Nadal sailed into a Grand Slam quarter-final for the 30th time in his career and for his fifth appearance in Melbourne’s final eight. Despite being ousted in last year’s opening round by compatriot Fernando Verdasco, Nadal has produced serious results on Aussie soil.
He was crowned champion in 2009 and has reached the championship round twice (2012, 2014). Now, the resurgent 30-year-old has been trying to channel his vintage form, and has many in the tennis community wondering if another Nadal vs. Roger Federer final could be in the cards for this year’s final.
However a 6’5″ roadblock stands in the way. Raonic, comparatively, is relying on momentum rather than experience. On Wednesday, he makes his third consecutive appearance in the quarter-finals, having reached the semis in 2016. He hopes the seventh time can be the charm, as he continues his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title.
En route to the quarter-finals, Raonic has dispatched Germany’s Dustin Brown, Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, Frenchman Gilles Simon, and most recently, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut. Over the course of those four matches, he’s only dropped two sets so far. Even more impressive is that Raonic did so while battling flu-like symptons and fever for much of week one.
However, when he meets Nadal in the quarters, the No. 3 seed will not just be facing his biggest test so far but will also be doing so on unfamiliar territory. It will be Raonic’s first match this year on Rod Laver Arena – having played the rounds leading up to now on the courts of Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena.
Meanwhile, Nadal’s path to his showdown with Raonic has been a little more challenging. After flying through the first two rounds with straight-sets victories over Florian Mayer of Germany and Cyprus’ Marcos Baghdatis, Nadal was finally tested. He needed the full five sets to put away 19-year-old German phenom Alexander Zverev, which took four hours and five minutes.
His most recent match needed almost three hours, as his fourth-round clash with Monfils required four sets. It’s not yet known whether the past two matches have prepared or drained Nadal from what should be a physical and mentally challenging test, as he’ll have to have his wits about him when he meets Raonic on Wednesday.
Recent Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Andy Roddick couldn’t help but chime in his opinion on tonight’s highly-anticipated showdown. Roddick told “The Tennis Podcast” host Catherine Whitaker that he too is hoping for a Nadal-Federer showdown in the final.
“I think it could be the most historically significant match ever,” said Roddick. “If you think of where they are at in terms of Federer being on 17 Slams and Nadal on 14 Slams, a Nadal win puts him back in the game, back in the conversation, narrowing the gap to 17-15 with the French Open around the corner, then he’s back in the game, back in the conversation.”
But the former world No. 1 was quick to include his thoughts on Nadal’s Canadian competitor.
“He’s certainly a contender. The thing I love about Milos is how professional he is – he looks like he expects to be there. He thinks he’s going to win a Slam, I think he’s going to win a Slam. That weaponry and what he’s been able to do… makes it a tough match-up for Rafa, especially on fast courts.”
Tune in to TSN to catch the match live, or you can watch an encore presentation at 1 p.m. ET on TSN 4/5. For full details of when and where to watch, check out the Australian Open TV schedule.