MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Canadian Milos Raonic is into the Australian Open quarterfinals for the fifth time in the last six years.
The 29-year-old Raonic backed up a straight-sets upset of No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the fourth round Sunday afternoon.
Although Cilic — the 2014 U.S. Open champion who is part of Raonic’s generation of players and has also gone through a tough 12 months — was hampered by a lower back issue early on, there wasn’t a lot he could do as Raonic put on another serving clinic.
The Canadian fired 35 aces, bring his total through four matches to 82.
“It was a roller coaster. He was playing better than I was through most of the first set. I was lucky to get through that, made a bit of a run with it,” Raonic said during a post-match interview on court. “I’m just happy to be out here, to be feeling well and to be playing good.
“I haven’t gotten to do this that much over the last few years, so it means a lot to me.”
Cilic did earn two set points late in the third set. Raonic erased the first with a 225-km/h ace. He erased the second with another at 210 km/h.
Through four rounds, Raonic has yet to drop a set and only one of the 12 sets he has played has gone as far as a tiebreak.
He will face the winner between defending champion Novak Djokovic and No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Melbourne was the scene of the Canadian’s first major career breakthrough, some of his finest tennis at the Grand Slam level, and one of his most bitter career disappointments in 2016 when he seemed poised to win it all.
A year ago in this city, he also made the quarterfinals. With that, he returned to the top 15 in the rankings for the first time in 18 months. But later in the year the Canadian’s body let him down, in the way it so often has during his star-crossed career. Raonic missed the French Open in early June, the U.S. Open last September and then the Davis Cup finals in Madrid in November.
“It was hard for me to skip Davis Cup, but I had to spend time, because I was ailing (with) a back issue throughout pretty much the whole year,” Raonic said. “I had to take time where I didn’t serve for about a month. But it allowed me to focus on other things, put other things together and get stronger, get fitter.”
The Canadian came into 2020 with guarded optimism.
“I was able to train for about six, seven weeks straight without any hindrances, no setbacks. I was thankful for that,” he said.
Raonic retained coach Mario Tudor, who first joined him on a regular basis at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. last summer. But he changed up other elements.
“I switched around the people that are with me, so the methods have been a little bit different in that sense. Everybody sort of rotated around what I was doing in the gym and also how I was rehabbing and these kind of things,” he said. “I spent two weeks in Boston to help focus on a few things there with a group of guys, and then I spent four weeks training down in the Caribbean.”
Raonic opened the season at the ATP Tour event in Qatar, where he lost his opening match to French left-hander Corentin Moutet. As a result, he arrived in Melbourne a little short of match play.
If he felt healthy, there was no way to anticipate that his big serve would arrive in vintage, devastating form. After sliding into the final seeded spot (at No. 32) late the previous week, Raonic was able to avoid facing a top seed in the early rounds.
Instead, he defeated lucky loser Lorenzo Giustino of Italy and Chile’s Cristian Garin in straight sets. On Friday, he did the same to 2019 semifinalist Tsitsipas. It was the young Greek star’s first career experience facing the Raonic serve. He found it rather unpleasant.
Tsitsipas is one of several young players who have emerged in the top 10 over the last 31/2 years, the period since Raonic made the 2016 Wimbledon final. Raonic also has yet to face two rising young Russians, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.
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“When you look back at it, it’s almost like playing sporadically for the last three years. In its own way, it’s like a hiatus,” Raonic said. “I have to build myself back up and get some momentum, get some consistency, and then give myself an opportunity.”
But for all the new players who blossomed during this mid-career “hiatus,” much is the same.
“I don’t think it’s really changed in any sense. I think maybe just a few guys got filtered out. (Tomas) Berdych, (David) Ferrer, they both retired last year. We have these younger guys that have stepped up, Sascha (Zverev), Stefanos, a few others as well, and the Canadians,” Raonic said. “I think it’s been a shift, but it’s still the (same) guys winning the big events.”