Milos Raonic beat Lucas Pouille 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in such a masterful display at the Australian Open on Tuesday that a reporter later asked Pouille if Raonic was injouable (unplayable).
“Unplayable, I don’t know,” replied the No. 73-ranked Frenchman, “but he was very powerful today. There weren’t any chances at all on his serve. Every time he needed a point he put in a first serve at 220 (km/hr) or 230 and his second serve was more than 200. He was really powerful.”
Just 11 days ago at the Brisbane International, Raonic defeated the promising 21-year-old Pouille 6-4, 6-4. Asked about the difference between Tuesday and Brisbane, Pouille said, “in Brisbane he was making a few more errors. Today he hardly missed – and it seemed like he made every single really tough shot. If I had a chance to get ahead love-30 or 15-30, he’d always get his serve in.”
More than half (51 per cent) of Raonic’s serves were not returned in play and his power on the day was awesome. He averaged 196 km/hr on first serve and 185 km/hr on second serve. His fastest first serve was 234 km/hr (145 mph) and his fastest second was 229 (142 mph).
The match unfolded perfectly for Raonic. He broke Pouille in the second game of the opening set and then in the first game of the second and third sets. Giving an exceptional server a head start in every set is not exactly a strategy for success.
“Playing ahead is always a little easier,” Raonic said with understatement about getting the early service breaks. “The main thing is you have to be on top of yourself and not have letups. I think I stayed pretty much ahead on my service games. Other than maybe love-15 once, I think I was ahead the whole time. I don’t think I got to deuce ever.”
As the match went on, Raonic showed an increasing inclination to move forward and force the issue at the net. He won 22 of 33 points at the net (73%), to just three of six for Pouille.
“I think I’m playing well,” he said about his current form. “I’m finally healthy, finally allowing my tennis, that I have been able to put some time into, sort of speak for itself. I’m adding a few things. I’m more efficient at the net. I find my way forward and cover the net better. I’m able to make opponents think a bit more and I’m a little bit more calm in pressure situations – believing I can take and use different things to get ahead.”
Against Pouille, it was an exceptionally clean match – numbers wise – for Raonic. He finished with 39 winners and 20 unforced errors. Even Pouille was solid – 16 winners and 11 unforced errors.
It was a hot day, 28 degrees when Raonic was playing, but nothing like the 36 degrees on the same court a little later in the day for Vasek Pospisil on Monday – or the 42 degrees for Frank Dancevic in last week’s qualifying.
“It’s not too different than last week (two weeks ago in Brisbane where he won the title defeating Roger Federer in the final),” Raonic said. “I think Brisbane was probably more humid and slow. It’s a little bit quicker here. Being in the sun I don’t think was an issue today – especially at 11 a.m. I played efficiently the whole time – got the job done pretty quickly” – in an hour and 26 minutes to be precise.
There was one interesting tidbit of information coming out of his media conference – Milos is now wearing a mouth guard. Asked about the story behind it, he explained, “just to not grind my teeth while I play. It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Unlike with most people, it was not a dentist who made the recommendation that he use one. “A chiropractor,” he revealed. “Maybe it’s a way to calm myself down.”
Seated courtside in Show Court 2 was Raonic’s support team – front row: Riccardo Piatti, Carlos Moya, physio Claudio Zimaglia, second row: girlfriend Danielle Knudson, mother Vesna and father Dusan.
It was the first match where Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, has been present to watch Raonic in action at a tournament.
“I think he can help me in being more efficient with my game,” Raonic said about Moya’s role, “especially in some situations. He can give me a lot of information, on and off court, especially around two-week tournaments. I have an inability to, after matches are over, to switch off and completely relax. I think he can bring that calm to me. With the vast knowledge that he has – and he has a great sort of sense of how to approach, how to talk to people. I think he can help me in those kind of situations.”
Moya, now 39, said about his association with Raonic, “it feels like being back on the tour and I hope I’ll be able to help him. I’m excited to be part of the team.”
The win against Pouille sets up a second-round match against Tommy Robredo in a quarter of the draw that lost its second-highest seed on Tuesday when No. 5 Rafael Nadal was ousted by Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday. Raonic is 5-0 against the 33-year-old Spaniard, who came through 8-6 in the fifth set against Malek Jaziri of Tunisia in his opening round.
Raonic has won 10 of 12 sets against the No. 43-ranked Robredo, but more importantly the scores of their only two matches on hard courts – both in 2015 in Indian Wells and St. Petersburg – were 6-3, 6-3 and 6-1, 6-2.
Raonic signed some autographs after the match for some Canadian fans, but before that he did something that many had not witnessed before – he took off his New Balance orange sleeve and tossed it into the crowd.
Bouchard faces the Aga test
Genie Bouchard returns to centre stage at a major tennis tournament for the first time since she played in the 2015 Rogers Cup at Sobeys Stadium when she plays Agnieszka Radwanska in Rod Laver Arena at 7 p.m. (3 a.m. EST in Canada) Wednesday evening.
It’s also the first time she’s been in a Grand Slam event main stadium since she was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Maria Sharapova in last year’s Australian Open quarter-finals.
Although Radwanska won their only previous meeting – 7-6(3), 6-2 in Madrid on clay in 2014 – there’s a positive dynamic for Bouchard heading into the match.
Radwanska is ranked No. 4 in the world and Bouchard is No. 37, so the 26-year-old Pole is obviously the favourite. She has also won three events in a row – Tianjin (China) and Singapore (year-end championships) in late 2015 and the Shenzhen (China) tournament two weeks ago.
While that gives her confidence, it also takes the pressure off Bouchard who really has nothing to lose. With Bouchard’s high-powered, aggressive game-style, that could be dangerous for Radwanska.
Bouchard, 21, seems reinvigorated and said Monday, “I feel like it’s Genie from 2013, kind of grinding, starting from the bottom. I’ve played some International (level) tournaments this year and I think I played one in all of 2015. It’s quite a different situation for me but I truly love it. I truly love working hard and having to work my way up. It’s what I did in my career and I’m kind of having to re-start and do that bit again.”
She’s now doing it while being coached by Thomas Hogstedt – a man who has experience working with high-profile players such as Maria Sharapova and Li Na and as well as with Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep and Daniela Hantuchova. As a player, the 52-year-old Swede ranked as high as No. 38 in 1983.
“It’s been great working with Thomas so far,” Bouchard said. “He obviously has that experience and has worked with great champions. He brings a sense of energy to the team and is very, very motivating, which is something I haven’t really had in a coach before. It’s really fun. He’s very positive…almost too positive. I’m like ‘it wasn’t that great, calm down’ and he’s like ‘no, no it’s amazing.’ So it’s nice to have that good vibe on the team.”
Bouchard never really has to be told to let fly on her ground strokes, she should be even more liberated on Wednesday against Radwanska because the pressure is on her higher-ranked opponent. It should definitely work in her favour in the quest for a much-needed big win.
Australian post card
Many Australian postmen and postwomen are motorized. Motorcycles might not work well in icy conditions in a Canadian winter, but they sure make life look easy for the persons who carry the mail Down Under. This picture was taken in Wollongong near Sydney earlier this month.