Third seed Milos Raonic is the highest seed left in the bottom half of the men's singles draw, following the early departure of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who he was projected to meet in the semifinals. The bottom section of the draw is wide open, and all players in that section will be boosted by the fact, that Djokovic will not be meeting them on the other side of the net.
Raonic made the semifinals of Australian Open for the first time last year, and he was leading world number one Andy Murray by two sets to one. Unfortunately, injury intervened and last year's Wimbledon finalist went down in five sets, which Heaven alone knows, how the outcome of the match would have turned out, had the big-serving Canadian not suffered an injury.
The third seed's opponent in the third round will be 25th seed, Gilles Simon. The Frenchman lost his opening round match of 2017 to compatriot Lucas Pouille in Brisbane. Simon's now at the age of 32, and his chances of winning a Grand Slam, keep on shortening, each year that goes by. Simon has only reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals in his career with his first coming in Melbourne in 2009 losing to Rafael Nadal, who he could potentially meet at that stage once more.
How they got here
Raonic has been dubbed as one of the favorites for the title this year. The 26-year-old is now coached by 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, which is a shrewd appointment. Nevertheless, Raonic's passage through to the third round has been smooth. The third seed defeated Dustin Brown in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, which could have been a tough assignment for the Canadian. Last year's semifinalist had another tricky encounter with fellow big-server and Luxembourg's Gilles Muller, who had won his first ATP World Tour title in Sydney, last weekend. Raonic came through that encounter easily, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to advance to the third round for the seventh consecutive year. The 2016 Wimbledon finalist has always reached the third round or beyond in Melbourne, which is a good achievement.
Like Raonic, Simon has not dropped a set throughout these Championships. The 2009 quarterfinalist defeated American wildcard, Michael Mmoh, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, in a one-sided affair, and in the second round, he cruised past fellow 32-year-old, Rogerio Dutra Silva, who hails from Brazil, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 to reach the third round Down Under for the fifth consecutive year.
Raonic and Simon have met on four occasions, and the third seed leads 3-1 in their head-to-head encounters. Raonic won three consecutive matches against the Frenchman starting with a victory on the clay courts in Estoril in three sets in 2011. Their second meeting was a five-set thriller, which the Canadian had to recover from one set down and two sets to one down, in order to dispatch Simon, in front of a Parisian crowd in the third round of the French Open in 2014. The big-serving Canadian was 23 at the time but showed his maturity, winning that match 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. Their meeting later that year in the semifinals in Tokyo was less dramatic with Raonic prevailing, 6-1, 6-4. Furthermore, at the fourth time of asking, Simon dispatched Raonic in the quarterfinals of the Aegon Championships in 2015, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
The third seed has been playing inspired tennis over the past 12 months, and his game has improved immensely. Most notably, Raonic's movement around the court has improved significantly which is important, if he is going to beat players like Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal, who he has struggled to deal with in the past. Moreover, the Canadian's serve and blistering forehands are the key aspects of his game, and when they are firing on all cylinders, he can be very hard to beat.
Meanwhile, the 25th-seeded Frenchman is known for grinding out points, and he likes to engage in baseline rallies with many of his opponents. The duo's meeting at the French Open in 2014, shows that this match could be a long match, depending on which Simon turns up. The Frenchman's forehand can do some damage to Raonic but he will need to try to break the third's seed serve and hope Raonic doesn't have a monster serving day.
This match will be the final match scheduled in the Hisense Arena at not before 6 pm local time on Day six of the Australian Open, and it's a massive opportunity for both players to make a deep run in Melbourne, and the winner of this match will face a seeded-Spaniard, the 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut or the ailing 21st seed David Ferrer, who's been a two-time semifinalist in 2011 and 2013.
Prediction: Raonic in four sets