“Heartbreaking” was the word Milos Raonic used to so aptly describe his feelings after he lost to Andy Murray in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals when a right adductor injury diminished him after he had been brilliant in taking a two-sets-to-one lead.
On Wednesday night in the same interview room at Melbourne Park, Raonic didn’t seem quite as devastated after a 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 quarter-final loss to Rafael Nadal – but then that’s just a matter of degree.
After losing the first set on a service break at 3-all, Raonic led 3-2 in the second when he called for the trainer (above) and then left the court for a medical time-out.
He returned with a wrap high on his right leg but still had a golden opportunity to prolong the match when he held three set points leading 5-4 and then three more in the ensuing tiebreak. On three of those points Nadal rose to the occasion but on the other three Raonic disappointed – a regulation backhand wide, a double fault and a forehand unforced error.
Nadal eventually won the tiebreak 9-7 on an errant forehand by Raonic and the third set, though competitive, never really seemed in doubt. Raonic had begun wincing on some shots, particularly going to his right, and the end result was a two-hour and 44-minute win for Nadal to send him into his fifth Australian Open semifinal. He won his lone title at Melbourne Park in 2009.
When Raonic came to the interview room the main thing on most minds was what exactly was the medical time-out all about? “It’s my adductor again,” he said. “Sort of the back story is it’s another part of the adductor I damaged in Brisbane (three weeks ago). I was healing that before this tournament. I got it to pretty good shape then today I guess I hurt another aspect of it similar to the last two. But not by any means that serious.”
About the match, Raonic, who went zero for four in break chances (Nadal was 2/3), said about the 14-time Grand Slam champion, “I thought he did some things well. He took the match to me. I wasn’t able to sort of push him back behind the baseline like I was able to do a couple of weeks ago (in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 quarter-final win in Brisbane).”
Nadal was on to the Raonic serve from the beginning, getting a lot of returns in play even if they were off serves of the over 210 km/hr variety. The efficiency of his returning is reflected in Raonic’s meagre ace count of four in a three-set match compared to 33 in a four-set match against Roberto Bautista Agut in the previous round.
In reply to a question about his thinking about receiving serve against Raonic, Nadal explained, “I received inside the court. In Brisbane I was receiving like six, seven meters behind the baseline.
“I watched the match before, and I decided to go in, no? Talking with (uncle) Toni, with Carlos (Moya), we know that we needed to change that. Before the match we were talking about trying to combine, you know, returning sometimes very close to the baseline and sometimes back.
“But the real thing is I felt well from inside, and I felt that I was putting some pressure on him, so I decided to stay in almost all the time, no? So happy for that.”
Raonic is not quite so happy. This is the fourth time in the last five Australian Opens that a physical issue has figured in his loss.
2013: He needed an injection in his foot to play Roger Federer in the round-of-16.
2014: He tore a ligament near his ankle and wasn’t at his best in a third-round loss to Grigor Dimitrov and was out of action for several weeks.
2015: He seemed healthy in losing to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
2016: He had the adductor issue versus Murray in the semifinals.
2017: He had the adductor issue in the quarter-final versus Nadal.
He has also had a string of fitness problems dating back to the 2015 French Open which he missed after having surgery for a nerve issue in his toe (Morton’s Neuroma).
Wimbledon 2015: He was not yet properly recovered after the foot surgery and had several issues (including back) in a third-round loss to Nick Kyrgios that forced him out of the following week’s Davis Cup in Belgium.
US Open 2015: He suffered back spasms and lost to Feliciano Lopez in the third round.
Australian Open 2016: The adductor problem v. Murray in semifinals.
French Open 2016: A hip issue incurred in the third round may have bothered him in a fourth-round loss to Carlos Ramos.
Wimbledon 2016: Reaches final and seemed free of any serious problems.
US Open 2016: Cramps badly in a second-round loss to Ryan Harrison.
Australian Open 2017: Adductor issue v. Nadal in quarter-final.
Raonic’s fitness trainer, Dalibor Sirola on the left and coach Richard Krajicek in the middle, have to be concerned with their player’s ongoing physical issues.
“I hope it’s nothing too serious,” Raonic said about the adductor problem that arose on Wednesday night in Rod Laver Arena. Asked about the frustration of working hard only to be felled by physical issues, Raonic said, “I don’t want to depress myself thinking about that too much right now.”
As for playing Canada’s Davis Cup opening round World Group tie in Ottawa against Britain coming up in nine days, he said, “I don’t know. I have to see what this is. It’s occurred now four times in the last 12 months. I’m very much up in the air.”
Having carried a flu bug that weakened him for much of the 2017 Australian Open, Raonic summed up this year’s Aussie Open: “these last two-and-a-half weeks have been quite difficult just trying to manage everything. First dealing with the physical aspect, getting myself quite ready, making the most of that. Then dealing with the health aspect…then now this.
“It was quite a draining two-and-a-half weeks.”
Raonic’s issues should not take away from a first-rate performance by Nadal, but they were some sort of factor in the ultimate outcome. How much they affected his inability to capitalize on a number of opportunities is impossible to know.
Noteworthy were Raonic’s final words at his media conference when questioned again about his recurring adductor trouble. “I’ve had surgery on that hip (July 5, 2011 after a fall at Wimbledon),” he said. “I’m hoping that’s not any reason why I struggled.”
It’s a disturbing thought and Raonic fans might fear the worst. But they should know that he is meticulous in everything about his profession and his fitness. He would examine and question every angle in the quest to reach his goals.
As well, there’s a dark side to Raonic as he noted last week when talking about the music of the late Leonard Cohen, which is not exactly always cheerful.
Most likely his raising the possibility of a connection between the adductor injury and the hip surgery is simply Raonic probing every single possibility in search of answers. In the grand scheme, this is likely another obstacle to overcome. At just 26, there should be more chances for him to realize his dream of Grand Slam glory – most likely on the lawns at Wimbledon which are likely the easiest on his thus far fragile physique.
ANDREESCU INTO GIRLS FINAL EIGHT
Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., reached the quarter-finals of the junior girls event on Wednesday with a swift (60 minutes) and decisive (6-0, 6-2) victory over Chinese wild card Yuan Chengyiyi.
Seeded No. 7, Andreescu will next play the third-seeded Emily Appelton of Britain.
Andreescu’s doubles partner, soon-to-be-Canadian Carson Branstine of the U.S., was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by top-seeded Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland in the singles.
In doubles, the pairing of 16-year-olds Andreescu and Branstine defeated Ali Collins of Britain and Jule Neimeier of Germany 6-4, 1-6, [10-3]. Seeded No. 3, Andreescu and Branstine will take on the No 5 seeds, the American pairing of 15-year-olds Catherine McNally and Natasha Subhash, in the semifinals.
DABROWSKI OUT IN MIXED
Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and her partner Rohan Bopanna of India lost a heartbreaker quarter-final in the mixed doubles on Wednesday – beaten 6-4, 3-6, [12-10] by second seeds Sania Mirza of India and Ivan Dodig of Croatia.
In the match tiebreak that decided matters, Dabrowski and Bopanna led 9-6 and wound up having a total of four match points before going down in 67 minutes on Showcourt 3.
It was a match filled with sloppy play with Bopanna not particularly distinguishing himself. He missed a regulation forehand into the net on the second match point. With the score 10-10, he hit a lob wide to make it 11-10 for Mirza-Dodig and then belted an overhead smash long on the ultimate match point – the first for Mirza and Dodig.
AUSTRALIA POST CARD
It’s already the early hours of Australia Day in Melbourne. The 26th of January commemorates the first arrival of the British Fleet near Sydney in 1788. The Australian flag – here with the top corner snagged on a tree branch – is made up of the Union Jack top left, the Commonwealth star in the lower left and, on the right, the Southern Cross, a distinctive constellation visible in Southern hemisphere skies.
A staple of Australia Day feasting – an ‘esky’ (cooler) full of beer and bangers (sausages) and lamb cutlets on the ‘barbie.’