MELBOURNE, Australia — Milos Raonic has always turned heads with his big serve. Now that he’s improved his play at the net, the Canadian tennis star is even more dangerous.
Raonic advanced to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second straight year, defeating 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 Monday in a marathon match lasting three hours 44 minutes.
The 13th seed from Thornhill, Ont., improved to 8-0 this season and downed a former Australian Open champion for a second time. He tuned up for the year’s first Grand Slam by defeating 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the final of the Brisbane Open.
Raonic attributed his success this season to his improved volleying.
“I think it’s what helped me win in Brisbane,” he said. “It’s what helped me win my first three matches here, is that comfort and confidence of going forward. But not even just that. In the off-season I spent a lot of time up at the net. So it’s not just about a confidence, it’s about an understanding of what I need to do, where you go in certain situations, how not only to finish the points, how to defend a little bit better at the net and how to cover and move better to make the opponent think.”
Raonic said he had a lot of time to analyze and tweak his game while dealing with a series of frustrating injuries last season. He worked in the off-season with coach Riccardo Piatti on getting more comfortable at the net, and said he continues to devote more time to volleying in practice.
“I had time injured and I wasn’t so caught up in playing a lot of matches, travelling from tournament to tournament, when I was sort of sitting there maybe a little bit annoyed with the physical situation I was in, asking myself ‘What can I do to get better?’
“It was something definitely I felt was necessary for me. So I think (coach Carlos Moya) has been sort of taking the tools that me and Riccardo worked on in the winter, and he is sort of telling me, ‘You’re doing well up there. Keep getting yourself up there.”’
Raonic, who lost to the fourth-seeded Wawrinka in their four previous meetings, improved to 18-5 in Melbourne and 47-19 at Grand Slams.
“I’m very happy with the way I played, the way I competed, the way I turned things around after having the momentum against me going into the fifth” he said. “At the same time, as happy as I am, my mind’s already on what’s the process for my next challenge. I’m always looking for ways to get better.”
Raonic was cruising with a lead of two sets to love when his game suddenly derailed. Wawrinka stormed back to win the third and fourth sets but Raonic was able to close it out in the fifth, finishing the match with 24 aces, 82 winners and five breaks of serve at the showcase Rod Laver Arena.
“I felt very clear in what I needed to do and I believed that I could do it,” Raonic said. “I was trying to play in rhythm, dictate and control the centre of the court. I was able to carry that through.”
Raonic next faces Gael Monfils, the Frenchman who beat Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Monfils withdrew from the first matchup between the players at the SAP Open in 2011, but has beaten Raonic twice since.
The two players are a contrast in style. Monfils plays a flashy, entertaining game while Raonic rarely betrays his emotions and strives for efficiency.