Australian Open: Raonic beats Wawrinka, advances to quarterfinals

Beating Stan Wawrinka for the first time in five tries, Milos Raonic reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Monday with a 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

In a showdown of two undefeated players in 2016, the Canadian overcame his opponent from Switzerland (the fourth ranked player on the planet), winning his eighth match overall this season. The triumph for Raonic sets up a quarterfinal tie against Gael Monfils of France on Wednesday.

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The match that took three hours and 45 minutes to complete on Monday could’ve ended a lot sooner with Raonic established a two-set lead early. Deep into the third set, a small opening allowed Wawrinka a chance to get back into the contest, on which the reigning French Open winner capitalized, eventually stretching the bout to its maximum.

Before Wawrinka exerted his influence, Raonic was cruising with an effective serve and volley and very few errors. At 4-4 in the first set, Wawrinka opened the ninth game ominously with a double fault. He recovered the next point, but Raonic won the three that followed. The no. 13 seed in Australia won the first of his five break points of the match when Wawrinka crashed a return into the net. Up a break, Raonic then took a one set lead by consolidating at 6-4.

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Wawrinka broke Raonic early in the second set to take a two-games-to-zero advantage and had a chance to extend that further on serve. The Canadian however, did not express the slightest concern, coolly breaking Wawrinka’s next two service games and holding his own to take a 4-2 lead. While winning 5-3, Raonic took yet another service game from the 2014 Australian Open champion for a commanding two-set advantage.

The third set resembled the first, where neither player looked likely to be broken early, though the Swiss star did save a break point on his second service game. Serving at 5-5, Raonic allowed a return ball to pass him when he could’ve smashed it at the net, thinking it would go wide of the baseline. The ball landed inside the line, giving Wawrinka new momentum in a crucial game, which he went on to win on his third break point to take the set before serving out 7-5 to force a fourth.

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Stan Wawrinka reaches for a return at the Australian Open on January 25, 2016.

Stan Wawrinka reaches for a return at the Australian Open on January 25, 2016.

A lengthy opening game on the fourth set saw Raonic hold serve despite struggling to put Wawrinka away multiple times, he also saved a break point in the process. Four games later Wawrinka again was gifted two break points, this time taking full advantage to move ahead 3-2. Throughout the fourth set, Wawrinka thwarted Raonic on six break point opportunities before winning 6-4 and taking the match to a deciding fifth set.

Protecting the serve became pivotal in the final set and neither player allowed daylight until Raonic, up 3-2, had two chances to put away the sixth game. Something finally fell the Canadian’s way when Wawrinka over-hit a return to lose the game and Raonic promptly served the next one to take a 5-2 lead with an ace, one of his 24 on the day. Wawrinka kept himself in the match by holding his next game, though it only delayed the inevitable as Raonic took the set and match 6-3 by putting away a forehand volley versus a scrambling Wawrinka on the final point.

Milos Raonic at the Australian Open on January 25, 2016.

Milos Raonic at the Australian Open on January 25, 2016.

Raonic had reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne last year as well, losing to world number one Novak Djokovic, who went on to lift the trophy. This time the 23rd seed Monfils – who beat Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov in the fourth round – stands in Raonic’s way to a first Australian Open semifinal appearance.

In his eight matches this season, which includes a title in Brisbane where he beat Roger Federer, Raonic has dropped only three sets. Two of the sets lost were to Wawrinka on Monday, and the other came against Ivan Dodig in Brisbane.