Raonic beats 2014 champion Wawrinka, reaches quarterfinals
MELBOURNE, Australia — Milos Raonic persevered with his serve-and-volley game plan, holding firm even in the deciding set against Stan Wawrinka after the 2014 Australian Open champion had rallied from two sets down to force a fifth.
It paid off for Raonic, who beat Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 on Monday to secure a spot in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
It was his first win in five matches against French Open champion Wawrinka, who the only man able to beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam match last year, and the only player to beat at Melbourne Park after 2010.
It was Raonic’s first win on Rod Laver Arena, too, “so that’s a nice plus.”
The 25-year-old Canadian is into the quarterfinals for the fourth time at the majors, including a loss here last year to Djokovic. Next up, he’ll face No. 23 Gael Monfils, who reached the last eight in Australia for the first time in 11 trips with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Andrei Kuznetsov.
Raonic and Wawrinka were both on seven-match winning streaks entering the fourth round, both having won titles leading into the season’s first major. Raonic won in Brisbane, beating Roger Federer in the final, and Wawrinka in Chennai.
Raonic dominated in the first two sets, but then Wawrinka went on a roll. Wawrinka had come back from two sets down six previous times in majors, and had the momentum in the third and fourth sets but it swung again when his attempted passing shot landed long in the sixth game of the fifth, giving Raonic the decisive break.
For Raonic, it was vindication that his plan to dictate with his serve and move forward was working. He won 37 of the 57 serve and volley points he played against Wawrinka, who serve-volleyed eight times. He won 22 of his 25 service games, broke Wawrinka’s serve five times and had 82 winners to 52.
Former No. 1-ranked Carlos Moya has joined Raonic’s coaching team for 2016, and may help take him to the next level.
“I think it’s just about a calm, and understanding how I can be more efficient with my game,” Raonic said when asked what Moya could bring to his game. “Today was a good example of that.”
Wawrinka said he was feeling drained after an illness in recent days, and was surprised to push Raonic to five. With the loss, though, he had to concede Raonic was capable of a major breakthrough if he could put back-to-back wins over the likes of Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
“He’s been semifinal already. He beat some top guys already. Always been dangerous with his serve,” Wawrinka said. “For sure he will have some chance to go far in Grand Slam. But to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat two of the big four. It’s never easy.”
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka returned to the quarterfinals, beating Barbaro Strycova 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round and then asking the crowd for the result of an NFL game.
“Can somebody please tell me, did Broncos win?” she said, taking over her on-court TV interview. When she heard Denver had beaten the New England Patriots 20-18 in the AFC championship, she shouted “Yesss!!” — stepping back and raising both arms, “I’m so happy now.”
Peyton Manning’s Broncos will face Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in the 50th Super Bowl. Azarenka has already shown some allegiance to Newton, doing her version of the “dab” in her victory celebrations.
Told the Panthers were well ahead of the Cardinals in the NFC decider, Azarenka said “Well then, it’s going to be my dream final, I can’t wait to see that.”
Azarenka is coming off two injury-interrupted seasons, but is returning to the kind of form that took her to the No. 1-ranked and back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and ’13.
She won the Brisbane International leading into the first major of the season, and dropped only five games in her first three rounds at Melbourne Park. Strycova, who beat third-ranked Garbine Muguruza in the third round, took six games off Azarenka.
“I played smart, I played aggressive, I took my opportunities and I really kept my composure,” Azarenka said.
She next faces No. 7 Angelique Kerber, who beat fellow German Annika Beck 6-4, 6-0 in the preceding match on Rod Laver Arena.
Kerber, who saved a match point in her first-round win over Misaki Doi, is into the quarterfinals for the first time in Australia.
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