Australian Open 2016: Clear-sighted Raonic routs former champ Wawrinka, as Ferrer flies
Former champion Stan Wawrinka is knocked out of the Australian Open in the fourth round by Canada's Milos Raonic
Big Canadian Milos Raonic may have slipped to No14 in the rankings after spending most of last year inside the top 10, but the intelligent, powerful 25-year-old has put assorted injury concerns behind him for 2016.
In the space of a fortnight, he has beaten defending champion Roger Federer to win the Brisbane title and, in a tough quarter of the Australian Open draw, has taken out world No4 Stan Wawrinka, champion in Melbourne in 2014 and a semi-finalist last year.
Their fourth-round encounter, in a quarter that has already seen higher-ranked seeds No5 Rafael Nadal and No11 Kevin Anderson beaten in the first round, proved to be one of the matches of the tournament so far, a three-and-three-quarter hours dominated by Raonic in the first two sets before Wawrinka fought back to take the match to a fifth set. Raonic eventually took an impressive win, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 with 24 aces among a glittering 82 winners.
Indeed the match was packed with attacking play, both men hitting many more winners to errors: Wawrinka made 52 to 31, as both fought to take control of the front of the court.
Raonic was also aggressive on the return of serve, just as he had been against Federer in Brisbane, and he broke for 5-4 in the first set and three more times in the second.
In the third, it was Wawrinka who fired up the winners, and from 5-5, he broke to serve it out, 7-5. And although Raonic survived a 20-point opening game in the fourth set, the Swiss did break in the fifth and served to level the match, 6-4.
It would be Raonic’s serving that took control in the decider, though, and a single break was enough, sealed with a winning volley in the final game.
The Canadian, who had not beaten Wawrinka in four previous meetings, reaped the reward of a determination to develop his attacking game. His tennis, built on an already-formidable serve, has become increasingly forward-moving, with one-two strikes that cash in on all-round power off the ground and vastly-improved movement and footwork. He pulled off 54 points from 83 at the net, and credited this tactical development as vital in his evolution.
“I felt like I was doing well up there. Especially some points I was more efficient than others. Maybe at one point in the third and fourth set, I was coming in too much. So I was a little bit predictable.
“I was volleying the first volley really well. I was finishing the points. I was putting pressure on him. I was giving him a situation maybe that he wasn’t too comfortable in.”
Another facet pin-pointed by the Canadian is his growing inner confidence:
“I felt very clear in what I needed to do and I believed that I could do it. I think that gave me some kind of calm and some kind of peace inside. There was a very strong belief that, the opportunities I was creating, I would be able to make the most of it.”
Raonic reached the quarters in Melbourne last year, but now he takes on a man who is making his debut in the Australian quarters, a player in extreme contrast to Raonic: Gael Monfils.
The Frenchman, this year’s No23 seed, is one of the most flamboyantly gifted men on the tour, can beat the very best when at his best, but has been dogged by injuries for much of his career—the result of an athletic style of play that, in his Round 4 match as in most others, ends in a heap on the court.
To reach his first Melbourne quarter-final, he beat Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), hitting 44 winners and 14 aces.
However, Monfils, whose only title since 2011 came in Montpellier in 2014, has yet to play a seed, and he will surely find Raonic’s game too hot to handle.
No8 seed, the 33-year-old David Ferrer, had little trouble in beating No10 John Isner, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, despite the fast Melbourne courts yielding Isner 18 aces and 39 winners to the Spaniard’s 28 winners. But Ferrer’s bustling, all-court tennis always challenges the movement of Isner, and the tall American has managed only one win in eight matches against the Spaniard.
Ferrer’s form looks particularly good as he enters his sixth quarter-final in his 14th appearance here: He has done so without losing a set for the first time. Twice he has gone on to reach the semis, but he will have his work cut out in making a third against four-time runner-up and world No2 Andy Murray, who has won seven of his last eight matches against Ferrer, dating back to 2012.
Murray reached his seventh straight quarter-final in Australia with a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(4) win over No16 seed Bernard Tomic.