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Milos Raonic making easy work out of difficult draw at Australian Open

Milos Raonic making easy work out of difficult draw at Australian Open
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An opener against the mercurial Nick Kyrgios. Three-time Grand Slam champ Stan Wawrinka a good bet for Round 2. An imposing hurdle in Alexander Zverev just to get out of the round of 16. All in the top half of a draw anchored by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Milos Raonic hits a return against Germany’s Alexander Zverev during their men’s singles match at the Australian Open on Monday. Raonic won the match to advance to the quarterfinals.  (PAUL CROCK / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Canadian has tackled that imposing path with aplomb so far. Raonic dispatched the fourth-ranked Zverev on Monday to set up a quarterfinal meeting with Lucas Pouille of France.

“Tough draws can go one of two ways,” said longtime tennis analyst Robert Bettauer. “You can lose early and bow out or you can work your way through it and then you become very tough to beat in the tournament.”

Raonic has been pushed at times over the last week in Melbourne.

Kyrgios, a former world No. 13, had the Australian crowd on his side but couldn’t take a set. Raonic needed over four hours to get by Wawrinka before knocking off 53rd-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert to set up the showdown with Zverev.

Raonic remained consistent against the German star, who struggled early and never recovered.

The 16th-seeded Canadian fired 15 aces and had 45 winners, dropping only two games over the first two sets. Raonic averaged 200 km/h on his first serve in the match and peaked with a rocket of 223 km/h.

“I still think he’s got the best overall serve in the game,” said Bettauer, a former national team coach. “By that I mean the best combination of power, placement, spin, kick, all that. Over the years he has really improved his return of serve. He’s got a great one-two combination with his serve and forehand when he runs around and pounds it. And he’s improved his net game over the years and is prepared to finish more points.

“He’s a force to be reckoned with. A very difficult player to play against when he’s on his game. He doesn’t give you much to work with and he’s all over you.”

Pouille, the No. 28 seed, has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal. He has dropped all eight sets over three career meetings against Raonic, including in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open.

Raonic reached the semifinals in Melbourne that year, kickstarting a season that included a Wimbledon final appearance and rise to a career-high No. 3 in the world rankings.

He has struggled with injuries at times in recent seasons and slipped to No. 40 last February. Raonic, 28, is up to No. 17 on the latest ranking list and will rise at least three spots next week.

“We know what’s he capable of because he’s been in semis and finals of Grand Slams when he’s healthy,” Bettauer said in a recent interview from Victoria. “He’s beaten the great Roger Federer at Wimbledon. So I think a healthy Milos Raonic is a legitimate contender for a Grand Slam title.”

All eight of Raonic’s ATP Tour titles have been on hardcourts. His last tournament victory came three years ago in Brisbane.

“I think I have to re-establish my ranking and consistency throughout a year,” Raonic told reporters in Melbourne after his latest win. “I don’t think you’re ranked or the numbers beside your name go by just one event.

“I know when I do my things right, I can give myself a chance.”

Only three top-10 players remain in the men’s singles draw.

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain will play unseeded American Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday while 14th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece will take on 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

The following day, Raonic will meet Pouille while Djokovic, from Serbia, will face eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan.
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