It wasn’t the traditional kind of handshake between Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils at the end of their BNP Paribas Open quarter-final on Thursday because the Frenchman had scraped his right hand when he fell in the fifth game of the second set.

Raonic won an entertaining contest 7-5, 6-3 highlighted by his skillful performance and Monfil’s extreme athleticism and unpredictability.

Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the unpredictability cost him when it looked like he might force a first-set tiebreak serving down 6-5. He led 40-15 but missed a forehand off a forcing forehand from Raonic and then tried an ill-advised backhand, cross-court drop shot that wound up in the net. Raonic came back to break and, once he broke to lead 2-0 in the second set, l’ériture etait sur le mur as they actually do not say in French. 


Being on the other side of the net from an opponent as funky and gifted as Monfils can require a different mindset than against other players. “You sort of try not to get in his rhythm,” Raonic said. “You try to play your game, and I think that’s the most important thing – just to not get sucked into trying to be a better athlete than him.

“You’re not going to try to make the highlight reel more than him. I think for me it’s just clear one-two tennis, and the plan is quite clear. Just comes down to can I execute it.”


Raonic, with Wayne Gretzky and family watching again, was almost textbook in his execution, except for a sloppy game to lose his serve at 4-2 in the opening set. He hit 24 winners to go with only 13 unforced errors in the one hour and 29-minute encounter. His serving stats were sound and his 19 for 33 success rate in net rushing was also good. As he pointed out in his post-match media conference, he did a lot of his moving up to the net when Monfils was serving to increase the pressure on the Frenchman.

There were only seven aces for Raonic and when asked about a diminished number so far in 2016, he explained, “I’m using a lot more of the body serve. I think that’s a simple factor. You have most guys that were covering two serves against me. Now I think I have given them three serves to cover.

“Plus I’m coming in on pretty much all three of those. It gives me sort of six options to work with. I think my numbers are up in general. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much because I can get away with going for the sidelines against the guys in the early rounds. But when it comes to the top guys who can guess, and if they get their racquet on it, they can always make it. It’s important to give them something else to think about.”

Raonic is now 13-1 in 2016, with his only loss coming when he injured his right adductor in the Australian Open semifinal against Andy Murray on January 29th.

An argument can be made that he may effectively be the second, third or fourth-best player in the world at the moment. Watching his recent matches one senses that he has the confidence of a Top 5 player (despite No. 14 being beside his name in the ATP rankings), and maybe equally important that his opponents also know it and get a little antsy.


“He’s really good,” Monfils said about Raonic. “He’s playing well and he’s confident. I think I bothered him a little bit but I don’t feel that I really bothered him a whole lot.

“My only regret is that I let him play a little too much.”

There’s an irony in those last words because not too long ago the book on Raonic was to make him play – that he wasn’t consistent enough from the baseline and could be broken down in longer rallies.

Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau is among those most knowledgeable about Raonic’s game and most impressed by his progress.

“It’s incredible how he was injured and didn’t play much tennis in the fall and he came back and won his first tournament this year in Brisbane,” Laurendeau said. “Now he’s been out with an injury again and he comes back and is playing so well here.

“It’s remarkable how solid his game is and how confident he is. He gets on top early and he just keeps coming forward.

“His game is at an entirely different level – he’s not just a serve and a forehand. He takes the ball out of the air, he hits it short on purpose and there’s a variety out there on the court.

“He’s really playing tennis.”


The conditions were almost ideal in Stadium 1 on Thursday night – comfortably warm and no wind. It’s almost certain Raonic will play his semifinal on Saturday against David Goffin at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. EDT in Canada) to be followed by a semifinal that could feature Novak Djokovic (or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) and Rafael Nadal (or Kei Nishikori).

About the slower conditions and lower bounce at night compared to day, Raonic said, “it depends on which way you look at it. I think it gives me maybe more play on his serve. But also I felt like he was getting more of my serves back. The difference from today and when I played him in Melbourne (Aussie Open quarter-finals), he stayed further back. I wasn’t as effective with that body serve which gave me free points in Melbourne.

“But regardless of the conditions, I just try to adjust.”

They will definitely be faster Saturday with a forecast of high temperatures of 34 degrees C (94 F) for the match-up with Goffin.

The two 25-year-olds (the Belgian is a mere 20 days older) have only played once, in the quarter-finals of the ATP 500 in Basel in 2014. Goffin won 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 in a match when Raonic seemed a little twitchy and anxious after winning the first set. A week later he had calmed downed considerably – beating Roger Federer in the semifinals and reaching the final of the Paris-Bercy indoor event (losing to Novak Djokovic).

On Thursday, the No. 15-seeded Goffin beat No. 10 seed Marin Cilic 7-6(4), 6-2, with that coming on heels of a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5) win over No. 4 Stan Wawrinka in the round-of-16.

“He tries to, maybe not overpower, but take away time from his opponents,” Raonic said about the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Belgian. “I watched a little bit of his match today. Really wanted to nap, to be honest with you – it was the first time to be playing in the evening. I watched quite a bit of his match against Stan.

“You see that he’s trying to take time away and maybe get guys to panic and not set up their swings. But I think when it comes to that kind of stuff I’m pretty good at getting things to my terms. If he wants to stay on the baseline I’m going to have to try to push him back.”


Based on his form so far at the BNP Paribas Open and the entire season, Raonic goes into his second Indian Wells semifinal in a row as a significant favourite. He has created much interest at this year’s event, with tournament owner, billionaire Larry Ellison (open-neck sweater next to his girlfriend) and Novak Djokovic (just there for the final game of the first set) watching him on Thursday night.

In our last blog, we wrote about a conversation with Raonic’s coach Riccardo Piatti in which he said he had two goals for his player this year. The one he mentioned was that he wanted Raonic to be better at resolving issues during matches.

Speaking after Thursday night’s match, he was asked about the other one.

“The first one is to be focused about tennis and the second is to resolve the problems on the court,” Piatti said in his somewhat fractured English.

Expanding on the idea of Raonic being focused on tennis, he added, “to want to do something very high, you need to live all that – all the time. And that is the goal he needs to have, the first one.”

When it was suggested that shouldn’t be a problem for the hyper-motivated Raonic, Piatti said, “when they start to play well, they start to relax – they need to relax, sure…but first is the focus, and Milos is like this.”

Pospisil & Sock to semis


Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock are into the BNP Paribas Open doubles semifinals after defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber and Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday.

The No. 6 seeds, attempting to defend their title, were the sharper and more accomplished pair at the net in the 64-minute contest.

“We were volleying well and played well at the net,” Pospisil said. “And I felt we connected on some return games as well and had a pretty good groove on the returns. We were also serving well so overall we were a pretty complete team. If we’re playing well, we’re pretty tough to beat.”

About how they have improved over the course of their first three matches, Pospisil said, “every match we play we just get a little bit better because we don’t play very much doubles together in general to be grooved going into events. If we play back-to-back events it’s fine – like we did last year with Indian Wells and Miami. Other than that we play one tournament and then we don’t play for a few weeks and it takes us a match or two to get into it. I feel we have three matches under our belt so we’re playing pretty well.”


In another quarter-final on Thursday, the unseeded team of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez upset fourth seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares 6-7(2), 7-6(2), [10-8]. The picture here from the video screens at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden shows Feliciano about to shake hands with Murray.

“They pulled off a good win today and they’re a tough team,” Pospisil about the Spaniards. “There are no real surprises at this level, especially a team like that. They’re both very accomplished – good doubles players. For sure they were underdogs against their opponents today but there are no real surprises in this draw.”

Asked if he was secretly rooting for Murray to win because a victory would have given him the No. 1 spot in the ATP’s individual doubles ranking, Pospisil laughed, “oh, is that what he was playing for? I was completely unaware. I’m sure he’ll get there soon.”       

Hangin’ out


This motley crew, hoping for autographs, spend much of Thursday waiting for players to come by from practice or from working out on the nearby lawn.

Late Thursday afternoon James Blake (dressed in a suit) walked by and stopped to do some signing. One young girl in the group asked him, “what’s your name?”

Blake’s reply: “James – I was playing before you were born.”

Indian Wells post card


One of the more noticeable landmarks on Highway 111, which runs through several California desert communities, is this large sign in Rancho Mirage.