Milos Raonic continued his fine Australian summer run with a well-earned 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over Tommy Robredo on Thursday in the second round of the Australian Open.
As usual, the Raonic serve was key and he is now unbroken going back through his first two rounds at Melbourne Park all the way to the fourth game of the second set of his 6-4, 6-4, quarter-final win over Lucas Pouille at the Brisbane International two weeks ago – and that probably shouldn’t have happened because he led the game 40-love. In total, that’s 58 games and includes matches against Pouille, Bernard Tomic, Roger Federer, Pouille again and Robredo.
While the two previous times Raonic had played the 33-year-old Robredo on hard courts he had won one-sided contests (6-1, 6-2 in St. Petersburg and 6-3, 6-2 in Indian Wells, both in 2015), he had to grit out the win in two hours and 55 minutes in moderate Melbourne afternoon weather in Show Court 2.
“I felt like I let down a bit after all those break points (seven) in the first set,” Raonic said. “If I maybe connected a little better with the forehand, especially that first return game, it could have been quite demoralizing for him and helped loosen me up.”
The set went to a tiebreak and Robredo led 3-0 and got into a rally on a Raonic second serve but misfired with a routine forehand into the net. Raonic then got back to 3-all but still wound up facing a set point trailing 6-5. He came to the net and forced a Robredo passing shot error into the net. Two points later Raonic had the set on a shaky Robredo double fault into the net.
Despite the disappointment of dropping the set in 64 minutes, and considering those two 2015 hard court losses to Raonic, Robredo battled and looked like he believed right until the end, which came when Raonic drilled a forehand service return so hard and deep that Robredo had no play on the fourth match point in the 12th game of the final set.
But it took until that last game – a combined 35 service games – for either player to finally break. Raonic was one of 12 on break points, Robredo was 0-4.
On serve, Raonic hit 24 aces and won 83 per cent of first serve points and 63 per cent of second serve points.
Afterward, he was asked if he was impressed with how Robredo (above) battled. “I’m impressed by how hard he does it every time,” Raonic said. “He didn’t surprise me by any means. It’s what you expect. I think he’s one of the guys that has probably saved the most match points in matches and that kind of stuff.
“He saved one in the last match (first round against Malek Jaziri of Tunisia). He had that quarter-final (2013) appearance at Roland Garros and three times in a row coming back from two sets to love down.”
The outing against Robredo was the longest match Raonic has played since he began having back spasm problems last summer but he was able, post-match, to offer a reassuring, “the body’s in very good shape.”
His third-round match on Saturday will be against 21st seed Viktor Troicki, who comes into the Australian Open off a stellar 1-6, 6-2, 7-6(7) win over Grigor Dimitrov in the Sydney final last week. In it he saved a match point and that permitted him to successfully defend his title.
Here are the three previous matches between Raonic, ranked 14 and seeded 13, and the No. 22-ranked Serb.
2015 Beijing: Troicki – 6-4, 6-4
2012 Tokyo: Raonic – 3-0 RET.
2012 Toronto: Raonic – 6-3, 6-4.
“I remember, the first time I believe we played it was in Toronto and he played good there,” Troicki said. “I had some chances but he served it out pretty well.
“The second match, we didn’t really play – I retired at the start of the match. I had a calf injury in Japan.
“The last one in Beijing was pretty good for me. I remember playing well and beating him. But last year he had some problems with his physical condition but I remember I played well.”
Regarding Saturday’s match-up with someone he considers a friend, Troicki added, “I know what to expect. He’s a great player. He’s won a title already in Brisbane. I watched a few matches and he’s playing good. So it’s definitely not going to be an easy match.”
Asked about dealing with Raonic’s renowned serve, Troicki sounded remarkably unconcerned. “I like to play big servers,” he said. “I like to return those serves.”
He later repeated the same thing to Serbian journalists, so it will interesting to see just how he manages – and if he is able to break the 58-games unbroken streak.
“He won last week (in Sydney) and I watched a bit of that,” Raonic said about Troicki on Thursday. “He battled through a difficult match in the first round (Daniel Munoz de la Nava of Spain), saving match (two) points I believe. Then he had a good win today (Thursday vs. Tim Smyczek). I played him in Beijing not so long ago. If I can put my game together a little bit cleaner and more efficient than I was today – be a bit more proficient at the net, dictate a bit better, I should be able to give myself opportunities.”
No Raonic media conference would be complete without a question about ‘the sleeve’ or ‘the hair’ and now ‘the mouth guard.’ After first giving details of its use on Tuesday, he was asked on Thursday if there was any difficulty getting accustomed to the mouth guard. “(No), other than I play with it too much,” he said, “I fiddle around with it too much.”
Having been in Show Court 2 – the fourth biggest stadium after Rod Laver, Hisense and Margaret Court – for his first two matches, it will be interesting to see what the assignment is for Raonic’s third round with Troicki. There are three matches, Murray – Sousa, Tomic – Millman and Wawrinka – Rosol that would likely have priority for 14,820-seat Rod Laver Arena. So, 10,500-seat Hisense Arena would appear to be a highly likely choice.
Notes from Melbourne Park
- In men’s opening-round doubles on Thursday, Canadian Adil Shamasdin and his Austrian partner Philipp Oswald were beaten 6-4, 7-5 by the American duo of Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky.
- Jesse Levine, who grew up in Ottawa and latterly represented Canada in Davis Cup while being resident in the United States, is the new coach of 20-year-old American Madison Keys. Keys accidently fell and hurt her left elbow at home in Florida before Christmas and was unable to play any events leading into the Australian Open. But she has performed well so far, winning two rounds and setting up a third-round encounter with Ana Ivanovic. The guileless Keys, ranked No. 17, admitted Thursday that she knew she had played the No. 23-ranked Ivanovic somewhere before but could not remember where. It was in Madrid on clay in 2014 and the 28-year-old Ivanovic won 6-1, 7-6(4). Keys is a defending semifinalist at the Australian Open. As for Levine, he has been pleased with how Keys has performed so far. But the former world No. 69 (2012), who was forced to retire with a chronic elbow injury, is just earning his wings at coaching. “I get way more nervous watching than playing – for sure,” Levine said about his new gig.
- The French players at the Australian Open are being mum with the French media about the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Canada in Guadeloupe in March. There’s controversy surrounding the naming of 55-year-old Yannick Noah, the 1983 Roand Garros champion, as captain. Some believe having captained two winning teams is a plus, others think that his absence while pursuing a singing career has left him out of touch with the sport.
Australian post card
Wollongong is an industrial city about 80 miles south of Sydney. But all is not smoke and soot – it happens to have very fine beaches and a lighthouse, here photographed near sunset earlier this month.
Note: No Blog on Friday – back mid-morning (EST Canada) on Saturday after Milos Raonic’s third round match.