World number three Milos Raonic had a successful 2016 campaign on the ATP World Tour, as the Canadian finally reached a Grand Slam final for the first time in his career at Wimbledon last year defeating 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the semifinals, but fell to current world number one Andy Murray in the final in straight sets.
Furthermore, Raonic ended 2016 as the world number three by reaching the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London but fell short by losing to Murray again, nonetheless, the top seed and defending champion at the Brisbane International will want to defeat Rafael Nadal for only the second time in his career, and lay down a marker ahead of the Australian Open, where he reached the semifinals but was hampered by injury again.
Former world number one Rafael Nadal has endured two torrid seasons in 2015 and 2016, and he failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time since 2004, however, the 14-time Grand Slam champion shown signs of his former self at the clay court events in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona winning both clay court events, he used to dominate on a regular basis in the past but a recurring wrist injury forced him to withdraw from the French Open prior to his third round match.
Nadal was ruled out from then up until the Rio Olympics, when he clinched the Olympic gold medal in the doubles with compatriot Marc Lopez but fell short to Lucas Pouille in a five-set epic in the fourth round of the US Open, nonetheless, Nadal ended his season early in order to recuperate for this season which has seen him fall to ninth in the ATP World Tour rankings.
Raonic's route to the quarterfinals
The defending champion received a bye in the first round, and the world number three began his title defence against 52nd ranked Argentine, Diego Schwartzman, and it was a straightforward 6-3, 6-2 victory for last year's Wimbledon finalist to get his 2017 underway.
Nadal's route to the quarterfinals
The 2009 Australian Open champion, a finalist two more times in 2012 and 2014 losing to Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka respectively had a tough first round match with Alexander Dolgopolov, a player who has troubled Nadal in the past on numerous occasions, and he had a two-match winning streak against the Spaniard. The Ukranian is currently ranked at 62 in the world due to a series of injury problems and he had led 3-1 in the first set but Nadal recovered by reeling off five consecutive games to win the opening set 6-3, and two breaks were required to see off Dolgopolov, 6-3, 6-3, which was his first win over Dolgopolov in three years.
Nadal cruised past Mischa Zverev in under one hour, and he saved the two break points he faced and ousted the German, 6-1, 6-1 to set up this eye-catching quarterfinal clash with Raonic.
Raonic and Nadal have met on seven occasions and the 14-time Grand Slam champion has a commanding 6-1 lead in their head-to-head series. The Spaniard leads 4-1 on hard courts and 2-0 on his favoured clay court surface.
Nadal won their first two meetings coincidentally in the third round on the hard courts of Tokyo in 2010 and 2011, winning 6-4, 6-4 in the first matchup and 7-5, 6-3 in the second one. The fifth seed would continue his dominance in their rivalry by winning their two meetings in 2013 in straight sets, first in the semifinals of Barcelona on clay, 6-4, 6-0 and in Raonic's first Masters 1000 final appearance at his home event at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, 6-2, 6-2. Raonic was able to take his first ever set off Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open in 2014 but he ultimately lost the match, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
At the sixth time of trying, Raonic finally defeated Nadal in a three set thriller at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in 2015 in the quarterfinals, 4-6, 7-6 (10), 7-5, saving a match point in the process but Nadal gained his revenge over the Canadian in the third round of the Shanghai Masters in 2015, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
Despite it being an exhibition match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the duo played against each other in a three set match with Nadal edging the Canadian, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 and he went on to defeat David Goffin in the final in the process. This match will set the tone for the season ahead for both players' season implications going forward as Raonic will be desperate to beat Nadal again, and it will be a confidence booster for the Spaniard to beat the world number three.
This quarterfinal contest has a little narrative to it as former French Open champion and Nadal's compatriot Carlos Moya has joined his coaching team, and he was part of Raonic's coaching team last year.
Raonic will need to serve well in this contest because Nadal is a good returner and he usually does well against big servers, on the other hand, the Canadian has improved on his returning game immensely which immediately puts the server under pressure as one break of serve is usually enough for Raonic to hold onto his serve and win the set. It will be interesting to see how both players in this exciting contest. Nadal will need to serve well in this contest and his forehand will need to be firing on all cylinders to execute any mistakes than Raonic may hand him. The former world number one may need to get Raonic off the baseline by throwing in a few drop shots and force the Canadian to run and tire.
The winner of this quarterfinal match will face fourth seed Dominic Thiem or the resurgent seventh-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals in Brisbane. This match takes place in the Pat Rafter Arena at not before 7 pm local time and definitely will not be one to miss.
Prediction: Nadal in three sets