Milos Raonic, the highest-ranked player remaining in the men’s singles draw at the 2017 Australian Open, continued his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title with a four-set win over Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne. The match was back and forth through the first half of the match before Raonic put his foot down, dominating the last two sets on his way to a 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
The match was tight through the first two and a half sets, but a rain delay midway through the third forced the roof to be closed, which shifted the advantage to Raonic who won nine of the last 11 games with the roof closed.
Raonic battles through opener
Raonic set the tone in the opening game, kicking off the match with back-to-back forehand winners, an ace and a service winner to open the match with a love hold. A huge forehand return in the following game gave the Canadian a break point, but he missed a forehand drive wide. Two more break points would come and go in identical fashion, with Raonic missing his returns on wide serves, before the Canadian teed off of a forehand return for a clean winner at the fourth time of asking. It would take one minute and two seconds for him to stretch the lead to 3-0.
The third seed continued to dominate as he raced ahead 15-40 in Bautista Agut’s next service game, but missed both with shots long. He would hold a third, but again drilled a forehand long. The Spaniard would save three more break points before finally holding to get on the board. After dominating the early games, Raonic suffered a massive hiccup in the seventh game. Serving up 4-2, the third seed double-faulted, missed a routine forehand and then netted a backhand to fall behind 0-40, triple break point. He would double fault again on the first break point to let Bautista Agut back into the set. Raonic had a chance in the following game to regain the lead as he ripped another huge winner at 30-30, but Bautista Agut ripped a forehand winner to save the break point.
Things would normalise after that point and remained on serve, sending the set to a tiebreak. Bautista Agut grabbed the early lead thanks to a passing shot that caught the net cord. Raonic would drive a backhand wide to give the Spaniard a second minibreak and a 4-0 lead. The turning point came with Bautista Agut serving at 5-1, when Raonic chased down a drop volley and ripped an improbable passing shot for a winner. Two huge serves closed the gap to 5-4. Some huge hitting from Raonic resulting in an easy putaway volley leveled the breaker at 5-5. A forehand error from Bautista Agut gave the Canadian a set point at 5-6, but finally the Spaniard stopped the run with a spectacular passing shot. Raonic would bring up a second and wrapped up the opening set in just over an hour with an amazing passing shot of his own.
Bautista Agut battles back
After reclaiming the momentum late in the tiebreak, Raonic carried it into the second set, ripping his shots through the opening game and broke Bautista Agut to love. The Spaniard responded, racing to a 15-40 lead in the following game. Raonic would save both break points, and another at 40-AD, before holding. Two games later, the Canadian netted an easy forehand to give his opponent another break point and this time, a net cord took a funny bounce causing Raonic to mis-hit his volley, handing the break back to Bautista Agut and leveling the set at 2-2.
The Spaniard would hold in the following game to take the lead. Raonic seemed to be struggling to keep his level consistently high and before long found himself down break point in the next game. His inconsistency came to a head as he double faulted to hand the break to Bautista Agut. That would be all the Spaniard would need as he would hang on to his two remaining service games with ease, converting his first set point to level the match at a set apiece.
Raonic turns the tables late
Symbolising the essentially new match, the pair exchanged love holds to open the third set. There was nothing between the two men through the first half of the set as they each easily held their first three service games. At 3-3, the rain began to fall in through the open roof on Hisense arena. There was an 11-minute break as the roof was closed and the court was dried. During that break, Bautista Agut had the trainer out working on his upper left leg. Not much seemed to have changed once play resumed, as both men easily held their first service games under the roof.
Bautista Agut would have the first opening, holding a break point at 4-4, 30-40, but Raonic would save it with an ace. The Spaniard won a huge rally at deuce when the Canadian netted a forehand, drawing a rare display of frustration from Raonic, who threw his racquet to the court. He would rally and save the break point with a forehand winner, only to double fault to give Bautista Agut a third chance, which he saved with another ace before holding. Raonic would make him pay for the missed opportunity, as he would turn around and reach break/set point in the following game when the Spaniard double faulted. Bautista Agut drove his forehand long to hand the set to Raonic.
Canadian races to victory
A new Raonic came out to start the fourth set. More like the first and second sets, he came out flying and was putting pressure on Bautista Agut in his first return game. The Canadian raced ahead 15-40 and ripped a clean forehand return winner up the line on the second to break early and take a 2-0 for the third time in the match. Just like the first set, Raonic continued rolling and had a chance for a double break and this time he wasn’t about to let it pass, taking a 0-40 lead and ripping a clean winner for a 4-0 lead.
Raonic was rolling in the fourth, winning 18 of the first 20 points of the set. Still, Bautista Agut wasn’t going away quietly and had a break point at 4-0, 30-40, but was aced. The Spaniard would finally get on the board with a hold in the following game, but he could do nothing to stop Raonic, who smacked two aces on his way to a love hold to wrap up the match.
By the Numbers
Raonic’s power was on full display in this match as he ripped 33 aces and 75 winners, although he wasn’t as consistent as he had been in earlier rounds, hitting 9 double faults at 55 unforced errors. His first serve was strong as usual, winning 81 percent, but Bautista Agut did well putting pressure on his second, limit the Canadian to 48 percent of second serve points won. The third seed saved seven of ten break points on his own serve, while converting five of his 16 opportunities. Raonic was fairly strong on the net in this match, winning 31 of his 44 approaches.
Raonic’s next match could be his biggest test as he takes on ninth seed and 2009 champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. The highest-ranked quarterfinal matchup in Melbourne on the men’s side, the winner will be the favourite to reach the final. Raonic defeated Nadal earlier this month in the quarterfinals of Brisbane in a tight three-setter.