Last year's Australian Open semifinalist Milos Raonic has dropped a solitary set en route to the fourth round in Melbourne. The third-seeded Canadian has a tricky route to reach his second Grand Slam final, however, with the shocking defeats of the top two seeds Andy Murray and six-time champion Novak Djokovic has opened up the draw massively. Raonic will be looking to seize his moment and go one step further from Wimbledon when he was a runner-up losing to Murray in straight sets in his first Grand Slam final appearance.
13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut continues to move through Grand Slam draws quietly and the Australian Open is a special place for him. Three years ago, the unknown Spaniard defeated 2009 Australian Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller, and the Argentine's wrist problems began to flare up which caused him two injury-plagued seasons. Nonetheless, Bautista Agut has reached the fourth round or better at all Slams, and for the third time here in Melbourne, he will be looking to reach his first Slam quarterfinal.
How they got here
The big-serving Canadian began his second consecutive Grand Slam campaign against Germany's Dustin Brown. Brown is no stranger to giant-killing as he defeated Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2015. Nevertheless, Raonic had little problems by defeating Brown, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. The third seed defeated Gilles Muller in the second round, and his fellow-big server, claimed his first career title in Sydney last week. Raonic overcame Muller, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to reach the third round. In the following round, Raonic was up against 25th seed Gilles Simon, overcoming the Frenchman in four sets, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the fifth time in his career.
Bautista Agut has also dropped one set en route to the fourth round like Raonic. The 13th-seeded Spaniard defeated Argentina's Guido Pella in routine fashion, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1, and he followed this up with another straight sets victory over Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. In the third round, Bautista Agut was up against his compatriot and 21st seed David Ferrer, who has reached the semifinals Down Under on two occasions. The 2013 French Open runner-up has struggled for form over the last two years, and in a battle that lasted four hours, Bautista Agut came through, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 6-4 to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the seventh time in his career.
Raonic and Bautista Agut have met on seven occasions, and the third seed is unbeaten against the Spaniard, winning four times out of four. Raonic leads 3-0 on hard courts, and once on grass. The Canadian won their first encounter in the third round stage of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris in 2014 in two tight sets, 7-5, 7-6 (7). The duo met twice on hard courts in 2015 with the big-serving Canadian winning their semifinal encounter in St.Petersburg, 6-2, 7-6 (2), and followed this up with a victory in the second round of the Shanghai Masters, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5). Their most recent encounter was in the quarterfinals at the Queen's Club on grass, and it was their first meeting not to feature a tiebreak. Raonic defeated the Spaniard in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, en route to reaching the final which he lost to Murray.
Who reaches the quarterfinals?
The third seed would have been bitterly disappointed that he didn't get the chance to reach the final in Melbourne last year, as he suffered an injury when he was leading Murray, by two sets to one. Moreover, Raonic has shown his maturity as of late by digging deep to win matches. Last year's semifinalist came back from a set down to defeat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals in Brisbane at the start of the 2017 season, which would have given him some confidence coming into Melbourne.
Bautista Agut is certainly no slouch as he has reached the fourth round at seven of the last 13 Grand Slam tournaments, and despite not beating Raonic in their four encounters, he will look at this match as a good opportunity to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The 13th seed played a good match at the French Open last year against Novak Djokovic, and he chances to win that match but just couldn't capitalise on them which proved costly.
Raonic's movement around the court has significantly improved which he struggled with previously, and it will be vital, that his serve is firing on all cylinders to cause the Spaniard some problems. Whilst, the 13th seed's serve isn't the biggest aspect of his game, he serves well in his own right and he is a fine returner. Bautista Agut's forehand is a strong weapon in this game, and he has the ability to outlast many of his opponents in extended rallies. Moreover, Raonic's backhand is a strong weapon and he will be looking to use this effectively when he has the chance. Both players will look at this match as winnable and a chance to reach the final will be tough but certainly not impossible. The Canadian should have a little too much for Bautista Agut, and he should advance to his sixth Grand Slam quarterfinal.
This will be the last match scheduled on Day 8 of the Australian Open in the Hisense Arena, and the winner of this match will play 2009 champion and ninth seed Rafael Nadal or last year's quarterfinalist and sixth seed Gael Monfils, a player who Raonic beat last year to reach the semifinals in Melbourne.
Prediction: Raonic in four sets