Milos Raonic set up a big round-of-16 clash with Stan Wawrinka by putting away Viktor Troicki with relative ease – 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 – on Saturday at the Australian Open.
Continuing to press forward – he was a stellar 25 of 32 points won at the net – Raonic dominated until he lost serve in the second game of the third set, ending a run of 67 service holds extending back to his quarter-final match with Lucas Pouille at the Brisbane International two weeks ago.
But he broke back to 4-3 and then got the final decisive break when Troicki lost his serve on four spectacularly bad shots – forehand unforced, forehand drop shot miss, a double fault and a backhand unforced error into the net.
Troicki, seeded No. 21, may have donated that game but mainly the outcome was in the hands of Raonic and he seized control. “I think I played well,” he said, “it’s definitely the best match I’ve played here in Melbourne so far this year. I changed things up really well, took care of my serve really well, mixing my serve and was efficient at the net. I think I would give myself an A-grade on the way I was able to play.”
Raonic only had 14 aces, but the one pictured above going past Troicki traveled at 200 km/hr down the T.
From the moment the draw came out on January 15, a confrontation between No. 13 seed Raonic and No. 4 Wawrinka looked like the first serious obstacle for Raonic who now has Melbourne Park 2016 wins over Pouille, Tommy Robredo and Troicki.
Here are the previous meetings between Wawrinka, Australian Open champion in 2014, and Raonic.
Wawrinka leads 4-0:
2015 Rotterdam (Indoors): 7-6(3), 7-6(7)
2014 Monte Carlo (clay): 7-6(5), 6-2
2013 Shanghai (indoor hard): 7-6(2), 6-4
2012 Cincinnati (outdoor hard) 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4
The main concern for Raonic in those results is that in the last three – Rotterdam, Monte Carlo and Shanghai – he did not have a single break point against the 30-year-old Swiss’ serve in Shanghai or Monte Carlo and went 0-6 in Rotterdam last February.
He has been returning better and looking more comfortable from the backcourt, so he is in a good phase in terms of threatening Wawrinka.
“He’s played solid through what I have seen of his first three matches,” Raonic said about Wawrinka during his Saturday media conference. “I watched a little bit of him now. I have it within myself to be able to find the solution. The question is will I step up and do it? Hopefully I’m able to put the pieces together.”
“I like to work with my serve and my forehand. He likes to work with his serve and maybe find a way around – sort of make you play off chipped returns and obviously likes to go for his backhand.”
The scouting report from Wawrinka about Raonic goes as follows, “Raonic serves really, really well and he varies a lot. He’s got a big second serve and he tries to be aggressive after his serve. It’s like with (John) Isner, you have to be really concentrated returning. And then you have to be really concentrated after that. He puts constant pressure on you.
“It all depends on the day and how I feel. In general, I’ve managed to make him play – to get him into the rallies. That’s not to say that I will be able to break him or to beat him. But generally I’ve always played good matches against him.”
Wawrinka added, “Milos is a dangerous player. He’s been No. 5 (actually No. 4) in the world, he’s been in the semis of a Grand Slam (Wimbledon ’14), he has beaten the best. He’s full of confidence. I don’t think he’s a set lost up to now. So it’ll be a difficult match.”
Raonic has additional support in the coaching box since 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya came on board just before the Australian Open. Looking ahead to Monday’s match against Wawrinka, Moya said, “I think Milos has the weapons to hurt him and to make him feel uncomfortable. He’s been serving well and he’s playing very solid from the baseline as well. It’ll be an interesting match.”
With only four men’s matches to play on Monday, there’s a decent chance Raonic – Wawrinka will be played in 14,820-seat Rod Laver Arena.
Raonic has experience in the Melbourne Park ‘big house’ – having player there last year in the quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic, in 2013 against Roger Federer in the round-of-16 and against Lleyton Hewitt in the 2012 third round.
As to whether he prefers to play in the day or night, Raonic said, “I like playing at night. I have been good in the day (all three matches this year) – either is good with me.”
In his on-court interview after beating Troicki, Raonic acknowledged the tragedy in La Loche, Saskatchewan, saying the following:
“Today, before I stepped out on court it was a difficult day back home. Unfortunately in Saskatchewan in a very small community there was a shooting at a high school, so I want to take a moment and give thoughts to that community, the family, the students and the school affected. We wish you all the best.”
Nestor, Stepanek pumped up in win
Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek moved into the third round of the Australian Open doubles on Saturday with a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory over the Polish pairing of Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski.
“Once we held serve early in the first set on my serve and got out of trouble, I thought we were the better team,” Nestor said. “We were a little more solid in the tiebreak. We played a really good match.”
Asked what he has learned from three matches (one in Brisbane and two in Melbourne) about new partner Stepanek, Nestor said, “he’s a really solid player. He’s always there mentally and no matter what happens in the match, he’s there. We had set points returning at 5-3 and then we served for the set (at 5-4) in the first set and we didn’t get it. Sometimes you can let it slip away but we didn’t. It’s good to have experience on your side.”
It has been very noticeable in the Australian Open matches how much talking Nestor and Stepanek have been doing between points when they’re serving. The little conversations go on much longer than was ever the case with any of Nestor’s previous partners.
“Got to make sure we’re on the same page,” was Nestor’s brief explanation.
In the third round, Nestor and Stepanek will face the Spanish pairing of Pablo Andujar and Pablo Carreno Busta for a place in the quarter-finals.
Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock, the No. 9 seeds, received a walkover into the third round when the team of Robin Haase and Fernando Verdasco withdrew on Friday. They will now take on the all-Aussie duo of Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth on Sunday in Margaret Court Arena.
Andreescu off to smooth start
Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., is the top seed in the junior girls singles at the Australian Open. She played her first match on Saturday and breezed into the second round with a 6-1, 6-1 win over lucky loser Satoko Sueno of Japan.
Last week at the pre-Aussie Open event in Traralgon, Australia, Andreescu had to withdraw with a left thigh (adductor) issue that has bothered her on and off for a few months.
She said was in no pain after Saturday’s match and is optimistic she will be fine at Melbourne Park.
After playing her first junior Grand Slam event at the French Open last year at age 14, Andreescu, the 2015 Orange Bowl under-18 champion, is the No. 1 seed at this year’s Australian Open girls event at 15 years old.
“There’s a bit of pressure,” she said about being the top seed, “but I try not to let that affect me and I just play tennis.”
About the Australian Open and Melbourne, Andreescu, a first-time visitor, said, “I just love the city and the people are so, so nice. When I got to the Australian Open I wasn’t expecting it to be so big. But everyone is saying it’s the biggest of all four so there’s going to be a lot of walking to do but I really like it so far.”
In the second round, Andreescu plays Jade Lewis of New Zealand.
Another winner on Saturday was Jack Mingjie Lin of Toronto, he beat Nicola Kuhn of Germany 6-4, 6-3 after trailing 4-1 in the opening set.
In action on Sunday will be No. 3 seed Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Quebec, Katherine Sebov of Toronto and boys No. 4 seed Félix Auger-Aliassime from Montreal.
Australian post card
It’s summer Down Under and this was the scene on a recent night at sunset as people walked from Confederation Square, the main gathering spot in Melbourne, toward the main intersection – Swanston and Flinders Streets. On the left with an Australian flag at the very top is the landmark Flinders Street train station.
Note: No blog on Sunday. Back Monday for the Raonic-Wawrinka match.