Historic win: A delighted Milos Raonic is the first Canadian to make it through to an Australian Open semi-final. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Respect: Gael Monfils congratulates Milos Raonic after his quarter-final victory. Photo: Michael Dodge
Fan favourite: Milos Raonic signs autographs after the match. Photo: Aaron Favila
Before he can think about conquering past tormentors Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, Andy Murray has another sizeable obstacle in the semi-finals: Milos Raonic.
Raonic overpowered the mercurial, but flighty Gael Monfils 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his second grand slam semi-final.
Murray’s quest for an Australian Open title has foundered four times in the final at the hands of either Djokovic or Federer. This time, the Scot first has to defuse one of the most potent weapons in tennis: the Raonic serve.
Raonic is the upstart among the usual suspects in last four at Melbourne Park, with Djokovic, Murray and Federer ranked 1-3 and carrying an aggregate of 29 major titles.
But Raonic’s victory over Stan Wawrinka confirmed the Canadian’s capabilities of beating anyone on a given day. The question has long been whether he can sustain the “any given” match level for long enough to pinch a grand slam title.
Raonic is far from a one dimensional player, who can merely send down thunderbolts from a height (he’s 196cm). His serve is backed up by a hefty forehand, his volleying has improved, and his backhand, once questionable, is now more than adequate.
If Murray v Raonic is less enticing than Djokovic v Federer, it still presents as an attractive contrast between Murray, a great defender and returner of serve, against Milos the power-serving Monster.
For Raonic, whose upset of Wawrinka in the round of 16 delivered the only deviation from seedings, Murray represents a significant rise in class compared with Monfils.
In a power-laden match played under a closed roof, there were relatively few break points or long rallies. Raonic’s serve and greater reliability was enough to see him through to his second grand slam semi-final.
The Canadian broke serve only three times in the match, which was more than sufficient. Monfils made little imprint on the bionic Raonic serve, which delivered many “free” points. Too many.
Raonic said Murray loomed as a “great challenge”, that he believed he was capable of meeting. “I have it in myself to find a solution,” said the Canadian, the first male of his nation to reach this major’s semis.
Raonic also felt he had benefited from the closure of the roof.
While Monfils served okay, he simply didn’t do enough on return.
The Frenchman, who had opened in flamboyant style with a pair of aces, suffered his first, largely self-inflicted wound in the fourth game when a pair of double faults contributed to the first break of serve of the match.
Raonic does not need many breaks. His first serve averages more than 200 km/h and the quicker ones are 225-235km/h; so unless you have the reflexes of Andre Agassi, the receiver’s best option is to guess which way the ball’s headed.
Further, nearly everyone who plays Raonic (excepting Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray) accepts that break points will not be plentiful and that such rare occasions must be seized.
Monfils had only one break point in the opening two sets and, importantly, managed to convert it. In the balance of play, he always seemed to lag – Raonic had more break opportunities (4) to this point and was obviously under far less strain on serve.
After the third set, any suspense ceased. Monfils had only one further break point for the remainder of the match. The Raonic serve, comparable in potency if less precise than that of his former idol Pete Sampras, was the decisive factor.
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