For the first time since the 2014 French Open, Rafael Nadal is through to the semifinals of a Grand Slam event. The 14-time major champion is through to the last four of the Australian Open after dispatching world number three Milos Raonic in straight sets. Nadal was at his grinding, resilient best, not allowing his serve to be broken and saving six set points in the second set, blowing Raonic off the court with his dominant groundstrokes on his way to a 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 victory.
Solid start from Nadal
After flying out to quick starts in his previous matches, Raonic was incredibly sloppy in the opening game of this quarterfinal. The Canadian struggle to get his first serve in and missed a routine forehand on the opening point. At 40-30, Nadal blocked back a massive Raonic serve for a winner to push the game to deuce. The third seed missed two game points with unforced errors before holding with back-to-back unreturnable serves. Despite the slow start, Raonic was quick to get back into the match and started ripping his groundstrokes in the rallies and was able to push Nadal to deuce in the fourth game.
However, Nadal was rolling and responded by drawing an error with a passing shot to set up a break point in the following game. His passing shot was there, but caught the net court and died on his side. Raonic would hold for the 3-2 lead. After an easy hold, the Spaniard kept pushing and this time was rewarded with a pair of break points. On the first, Nadal hit a lob that seemed to be going long, but Raonic played it and drove his smash well long to give the break to Nadal. That was all the ninth seed would need, as he easily held his remaining service games to take the opening set.
Nadal survives in tiebreak
A far stronger Raonic came out to start the second set and used his huge forehand to bring up a break point in Nadal’s opening service game. After receiving a time violation, Nadal cut a serve out wide that drew a return into the net to save the break point. It would take the Spaniard four advantages to wrap up the game. After holding for 3-2, Raonic left the court for a medical timeout. By the time they resumed, seven minutes had passed between points. In the ensuing game, Raonic had two brutal misses at the net, including one routine volley that would normally be a winner at 30-30, that allowed Nadal to escape the game unscathed.
The ninth seed had a costly miss of his own at 4-4, 15-30 when he missed a passing shot just wide that would have given him double break point. Raonic would hold for 5-4. The misses seemed to haunt Nadal, as he missed a pair of forehands in the next game to fall behind 0-30. After winning the next point with a serve, he would double fault to give the Canadian a pair of break/set points. Raonic would miss both, as he netted a return on the first and drove a backhand wide on the second. Nadal missed a drop shot to give his opponent another look, but saved it with a forehand winner. He would go on to hold having saved three set points.
The set required a tiebreak. There was nothing between the two men through the first half of the breaker, with both men’s forehands helping to protect their serves. After the change of ends, a quick exchange of short shots by the end finished when Raonic punched a backhand volley past Nadal to score the first minibreak for 4-3. After a second straight volley winner for 5-3, the Canadian couldn’t put a third away and was passed to put the breaker back on serve. In the very next point, the Spaniard couldn’t put Raonic away and the third seed managed to curl a lob over Nadal and in for a 6-4, double set point, lead. It still wasn’t to be for Raonic, as he missed his return on the first and then double faulted on the second. A smash winner gave him a sixth set point, third in the breaker, but he missed a forehand. Nadal would then hold a set point of his own and Raonic again missed a forehand, this time off the net cord, as the Spaniard claimed the second set tiebreak 9-7 and a two-sets-to-love lead after a second set that lasted well over an hour having saved six set points.
Late break sends Nadal into semis
Having stolen the second set, Nadal was oozing with confidence at the start of the third set as he pounded his forehand around the court. Raonic also appeared to be labouring, noticeably wincing as he walked around the baseline. Still, both men were able to cruise along on serve through the early stages of the set. In the sixth game, Nadal really started to attack the Raonic service game. Twice, under tremendous pressure from the Spaniard, Raonic dumped forehands into the bottom quarter of the net. Still, he would hold for 3-3.
Neither man was having much success in their return games, although Nadal was applying more pressure. With Raonic serving to stay in the match, the Spaniard tasted blood. He raced ahead 0-30 before the two engaged in a wild rally, with both men running corner to corner to keep the ball in play. Raonic would finally net a shot to give his opponent triple break/match point. Nada only needed on, as the Canadian could not put him away at the net finally missed a lunging backhand volley to hand Nadal the win.
By the numbers
As he needed to be, Nadal was all over the Raonic serve, limiting one of the tour’s best servers to 14 aces, 68 percent of first serve points won and 56 percent of second serve points won. Nadal won an impressive 83 percent of his own first serve points. Nadal was the stronger player in the rallies, with 40 winners to Raonic’s 39 (that includes aces, so really the count was 36 to 25), while only committing 21 unforced errors, 11 fewer than his opponent. The most surprising statistic in the match was net points. Nadal won a remarkable 22 of 25 points when he attacked the net, while limiting one of the Canadian’s best weapons to 27 of 52.
Nadal will look to avenge his Beijing quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov when the pair do battle in the semifinals. Nadal leads their head-to-head 7-1, even though the Bulgarian won their last meeting back in October.