Canadian star praises Pouille for breaking down his game
Milos Raonic was riding on the crest of a wave – his game, seemingly, back at its dominant best. The Canadian had won 94 per cent of his service games in four matches, he’d faced just five break points and struck 107 aces at this year’s Australian Open. But Lucas Pouille stopped his surge on Wednesday for a place in his first Grand Slam championship semi-final.
Raonic was clearly disappointed to make a last-eight exit at Melbourne Park for the third time (also 2015 and 2017), admitting, “I felt at the beginning of the match I was tossing the ball a little bit too far forward. It was not helping my serving percentage.
“I knew he was going to make things difficult. I wish I would have just served better and cleaned up some aspects of my game where I felt like I was just a little bit behind.”
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The 28-year-old, who reached the Wimbledon final in July 2016, went on to offer some advice to Pouille as the Frenchman prepared to face World No. 1 and six-time former champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.
“Not to expect that he needs to do too much more, and just to play within himself,” said Raonic. “I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s not so much only the opponent you’re facing, but it’s also the situation, which is a completely new one for him.
“I think he has to stay true to himself, try to do the things he does well, really focus on that aspect more than anything else.”
Raonic will now leave Melbourne to access a right knee that hindered his time on-court in 2018. “There is damage inside my knee that I’m aware,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid potentially having to have surgery on. I don’t know if I can afford that risk at this moment.”
The Canadian is next scheduled to compete at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, which begins on 11 February.
Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Nicolas Mahut reached their second Australian Open semi-final on Wednesday, ending Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan’s quest for a 17th Grand Slam title as a team.
Herbert/Mahut fell down a break in the second set, and the Bryans served to level the quarter-final. But Herbert/Mahut broke back in the ninth game and pulled away in the tie-break to advance 6-4, 7-6(3).
The Bryans were playing their first Slam together since last year’s Australian Open, since Bob missed the final six and half months of the 2018 season because of a right hip injury that required surgery.
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Herbert/Mahut made the 2015 final but lost to Italians Simone Bolelli/Fabio Fognini. The Frenchmen will next meet Americans Ryan Harrison/Sam Querrey, who upset seventh seeds Lukasz Kubot/Horacio Zeballos 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
On the top half of the draw, 2017 Australian Open champions Henri Kontinen/John Peers won 88 per cent of their first-serve points (29/33) and knocked out third seeds Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares 6-3, 6-4.
The 12th seeds will play Leonardo Mayer/Joao Sousa for a chance to return to the final. Mayer/Sousa beat sixth seeds Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus on Tuesday.
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Naomi Osaka dominated Elina Svitolina to win in straight sets and reach the Australian Open semi-finals.
The Japanese US Open champion had too much firepower for Svitolina, triumphing 6-4 6-1 in Melbourne.
Osaka, 21, hit 31 winners and took advantage of the second serve of the Ukrainian, who received treatment on her shoulder in the second set.
The fourth seed will face either Serena Williams or Karolina Pliskova in the last four on Thursday.
Svitolina, the sixth seed, is still to go beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam.
“I tried to be consistent or as consistent as I can be. She’s really good but unfortunately she was injured. But playing against her injured was really tough,” said Osaka.
“For me, today, I had one goal – it was to try as hard as I can and not get angry.
“I didn’t do that well in the past two rounds, but I played well today.”
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Osaka announced herself on the world stage with her hugely impressive victory over Williams in September’s US Open final, although her achievement was overshadowed by the American’s outburst at umpire Carlos Ramos.
She has the chance to become world number one after this tournament and looked a class apart against Svitolina, who was affected by the shoulder problem which needed treatment during her third-round match.
There was no sign of an issue in the first five games as both players held serve, but the final five games of the first set were all breaks with Osaka striking the decisive blow when Svitolina netted a backhand.
The second set was much more straightforward, once a lucky net cord gave Osaka the first break in the second game.
Svitolina received treatment at the changeover when 3-0 down but to no noticeable effect and Osaka feasted on her weak second serve, winning 16 of 22 points on it.
The Ukrainian managed to halt a run of six games in a row for Osaka but a smashed winner sealed victory in one hour and 12 minutes.
Raonic seeks a second Australian Open semi; faces Pouille
After Novak Djokovic completed a grueling four-set win in the fourth round of the Australian Open in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Serbian stepped back on the court to speak with former World No. 1 and on-court interviewer Jim Courier. The American asked how Djokovic was holding up after a physical battle against Daniil Medvedev.
“Since I guess my next opponent is watching, I’m feeling fantastic. I’ve never felt fresher in my life,” he said.
Djokovic was joking. But he’ll certainly hope he feels fresh, because another tough test looms in the quarter-finals. The top seed faces Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori, who triumphed in a fifth-set tie-break in the fourth round, on Wednesday with a spot in the last four on the line.
“Kei won another marathon match. Congratulations to him for fighting back from two-sets-to-love down and a break down,” Djokovic said. “He’s a fighter. He’s a very talented player. One of the quickest players on the Tour. I have lots of respect for him.”
Nishikori’s victory against Pablo Carreno Busta was not his first marathon at Melbourne Park this year. The eighth seed rallied from two sets down in the opening round, and then outlasted 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic in a fifth-set tie-break in the second round. Time and time again Nishikori has been tested this fortnight, but despite spending 13 hours and 47 minutes on court — that total leads the four players in the top half of the draw and is three hours and 22 minutes more than second seed Rafael Nadal has spent in action advancing to the semi-finals — he has kept on winning, and that’s what counts.
“I’m really glad how I came back,” Nishikori said after overcoming a 5/8 deficit in his final-set tie-break against Carreno Busta. “I don’t even know how I come back, but [I’m] very happy to win.”
Another obstacle he’ll have to overcome is what has been a lopsided FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Djokovic. The six-time Australian Open champion, who is trying to separate himself from Roger Federer and Roy Emerson by winning a record seventh trophy at the tournament, has won 15 of their 17 clashes, including 14 in a row.
“Every year is different, so every match that you play against each other is different, so I expect him obviously to come out, to try something new,” Djokovic said. “I have beaten him many times that we played against each other in the past couple of years and we played on different surfaces. [There were] a couple of very close matches. I expect a tough one.”
The winner of that battle will face either former World No. 3 Milos Raonic or 28th seed Lucas Pouille. While Raonic advanced to the semi-finals in Melbourne just three years ago, Pouille had not won a match at the season’s first Grand Slam before this edition of the event.
“We worked very hard during the pre-season and during the beginning of the year, so I think that, as we say, hard work pays off,” Pouille said. “The tournament is not over, but I’m very happy to be here now and I’m going to be focused on the next match tomorrow to try to reach my first semi-final. It will be great.”
Perhaps nobody has faced a more difficult road to this stage of the tournament than Raonic. In the first round, he had to play talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios, and then 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round. The Canadian ousted reigning Nitto ATP Finals titlist Alexander Zverev in the fourth round to set his match against Pouille.
“It’s not fun necessarily before the tournament starts to look at it and say, ‘hey, you play Nick to most likely play Stan in the first two rounds.’ You’re sort of hoping for a bit more time to really work your way into things,” Raonic said. “But then on the other end of it I dealt with those challenges really well. Right now I’m here playing some extremely good tennis, I believe. Hopefully I can make that count.”
Pouille will face a challenge in trying to work his way into Raonic’s service games. The 16th seed Raonic has won 94 per cent of them in his first four matches, facing just five break points in the tournament. He also is the tournament’s co-leader (w/Opelka) in aces with 107. Raonic has won their three previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings without dropping a set, and losing serve just once in seven sets.
Pouille arrived in Melbourne having lost five of his past six matches.. But with new coach Amelie Mauresmo by his side, he is set to compete in his third major quarter-final.