Milos Raonic seems to float through sets with not much happening and then ramp up the pressure at the most propitious moment.

As for the good ship Vasek Pospisil, it was leaking before he went on Show Court 2 on Saturday and had pretty well capsized by the end as the affable Canadian was beaten 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain.

Raonic was his typically opportunistic self in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Benjamin Becker on Saturday. The first set went along with both players holding serve until the No. 41-ranked German served trailing 5-4. Sometimes it almost seems like it’s a formula for Raonic – and in that last game of the opening set it was the perfect moment to pounce. He broke serve on four swift points – a forehand unforced error by Becker, a forehand winner by Raonic, a backhand unforced error by Becker and finally a huge forehand inside/out winner by Raonic and the first set was done 6-4.

Becker seemed to feel sky-high when he broke serve in the first game of the second set…but six points later Raonic had broken right back and the German’s joy was short-lived.

Another break in the second set and two more in the third and Raonic had reached the round-of-16 at Melbourne Park for the third time in five years.

“He had a great start in Brisbane (runner-up to Roger Federer) and obviously the serve is always there,” Becker, 33, said about Raonic. “But he improved a lot from the back (court). I think they (coaches Ivan Ljubicic and Riccardo Piatti) are doing great work with him and he’s more consistent now. He hits a heavy ball and you can feel that he’s confident.”

“I played better than my second round (Donald Young) and that’s all I can really ask from myself,” a matter-of-fact Raonic summed up.

Much of the talk in his post-match media conference was about improvements in his game and fitness. Raonic says he has dropped from four to six kilos, just in the last couple of weeks, mainly by moderating his food intake. He has also gotten more fit, as a result of training in Monte Carlo in December with his team, and put in work improving his already awesome serve.

He says it’s more consistent and that was confirmed by the numbers after Saturday’s match with Becker. His first-serve percentage was an impressive 71, and he is using placement mixed in with his power to do the damage.

It is getting close to two years (May) of working with former world No. 3 Ljubicic and Raonic summed up the results of that association (and with Piatti). “I’ve made great progress,” he said. “I understand much better what I need to do, and how I need to do things. I think what he (Ljubicic) and Riccardo have added to my game the most is just that peace of mind. How to do things, especially when it comes to matches. I felt a lot of times in 2014 I was my biggest enemy. I found against the top guys toward the ends of sets – 4-all – even if things were going well, sometimes I would get myself panicking. I’m hoping that’s different this year.”

The nine sets Raonic has won – zero lost – at the 2015 Australian Open have earned him a round-of-16 meeting with Feliciano Lopez.

If Raonic has had an uneventful trip to the round-of-16, Lopez has been walking on the edge of the precipice. He saved three match points in a 10-8 fifth set win over American Denis Kudla in the first round, and then one more against Adrian Mannarino of France in the second.

“I was gifted somehow,” Lopez said about surviving the first two rounds after he beat Jerzy Janowicz 7-6(6), 6-4, 7-6(3) in Saturday’s third round. “If I had lost to Kudla or Mannarino, I wouldn’t have this chance. So I feel very pleased. I played good tennis today.”

Looking ahead to facing Raonic, Lopez, at a career high ranking of No. 14, smiled during his post-match, on-court interview, “we’re not going to have so many rallies. I guess it’s going to be an exciting match. Milos is a great player and a great friend of mine. Hopefully we’ll play some of our best tennis.”

Last August at Rogers Cup in Toronto, Raonic had a frustrating 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 loss to the artful Spanish lefthander. But he had just come in from winning the ATP 500 tournament in Washington and just did not have a good outing against the 33-year-old Spaniard.

But in 2013, Raonic won both his meetings with Lopez – in Bangkok and at the US Open.

In an interview with ESPN on Saturday, Raonic talked about his basic credo in tennis: “I’ve simplified things. Do what you’ve got to do to get that forehand in the middle of the court – whatever it is, change it up, mix it up, be more consistent. Anything to get that forehand in the middle of the court.”

He is hitting the inside/in forehand better than ever – and it’s opening up even more space for his big bomb-shot, the inside/out forehand.

Raonic’s level has positioned him in a great spot to mount a challenge for the title in Melbourne this year. He’s even talking like a veteran, saying post-match on Saturday as he looks ahead, “to be honest, the tournament really does start the second week. It’s time to sort of buckle down.”

As neat and tidy as Raonic’s win over Becker was in Hisense Arena, it was a lot messier for Pospisil against Garcia-Lopez on Showcourt 2.

He won the opening game of the match, sealing it with a 201 km/hr ace.

Things looked promising for a brief instant but everything went the wrong way very quickly. He lost his serve in the third game on a double fault and it was downhill from there.

Garcia-Lopez played smart, with just enough aggression to make Pospisil work, just enough caution to allow Pospisil to self-destruct, which he did all too frequently.

There were fears before the match the back spasms that required treatment on court during his second round against Paolo Lorenzi on Thursday, and which forced him out of the doubles on Friday after just three games, would diminish him.

“I was in no condition yesterday (Friday) to play a three-set doubles match,” Pospisil said. “I played a tough five-setter (Sam Querrey) three nights ago, then a two-and-half hour doubles and then a four-hour singles match (Lorenzi). I wasn’t feeling good – I was having pains everywhere.”

Pospisil had 40 unforced errors to just 18 for Garcia-Lopez in the two-hour match. He said he was fit in terms of conditioning but either the lack of practice, or the actual back itself and any restriction he felt, combined to make him a pale imitation of his normal self in the first set.

In the second and third sets, he looked better but there was always that inability to close, to make the big shot, to win the key point.

Asked about whether he felt pain on specific shots, Pospisil said, “a couple of shots I did feel pain in the middle of the shot. There was one forehand – it was a 30-all point and I’m not sure if it was in the second set – and I hit the ball into the bottom of the net out of nowhere.”

This reporter had watched some of the Hopman Cup two weeks ago and seen Pospisil feel around at his back after a few points. “It’s the same thing that happened here,” he said.

“It was nothing like last year (a back condition that plagued him for almost six months after the Australian Open) but, to be honest, after I played Querrey, I woke up the next day and I was in pretty rough shape.”

Pospisil has pulled out of the Zagreb, Croatia, ATP 250 event starting on February 2 but said he still intends to play consecutive weeks in Rotterdam, Marseille and Dubai before the Davis Cup tie vs. Japan in Vancouver.

“I may have put a little pressure on myself,” he said. “It’s my first third round (in a Grand Slam) – I made the third round last year but I never stepped on the court (withdrawing before a match against eventual winner Stan Wawrinka). It was a situation where I wanted to do well and believed I could do well.”

So, in the end he winds up with the same 90 ATP ranking points he received a year ago, and the main concern now is that he gets back to full fitness quickly. “It’s nothing like last year,” he repeated a few times, emphasizing that the back should heal quickly without any of lasting effects he had a year ago after the Australian Open.

Somewhat wistfully, Pospisil added at the end of his media conference, “It would be great to go on court and not have any physical issues whatsoever – and just focus on tennis.”



Genie Bouchard returns to Rod Laver Arena on Sunday for her second match in a row. Start time is 11 a.m. (7 p.m. Saturday EDT in Canada) for her first meeting with Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania.

Her match will be followed in Rod Laver by Maria Sharapova vs. Peng Shuai. If the two tennis glamour girls win, there will be a highly-awaited Bouchard – Sharapova clash on Tuesday.



The Luna Park amusement facility is a longstanding landmark of Melbourne located down near Port Phillip Bay. Here’s what the entrance looks like.

NOTE: No blog on Sunday – back on Monday with all the Canadian developments.