In the best match thus far on Rod Laver in the men’s draw, former semifinalist Milos Raonic ousted 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in a grueling four tiebreak match 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(11), 7-6(5) to reach the third round at the Australian Open.
Raonic pounded 39 aces and perhaps was helped by a late third set roof closure due to rain.
“A few points here and there,” said Raonic who won two more points than Wawrinka when all was said and done. “I think I had my chances in the first set. Was up a break in the second. He was the better player in the fourth there. Sort of just held on, got through. Was a little bit lucky there, as well.
“I think my record indoors has always been better than my record outdoors. I think less external factors. You sort of get a more consistent feel on the serve. Depending on if it’s overcast or not, the roof gives you a reference point for the ball toss.”
Wawrinka had won the first four meetings with Raonic, but since, the Canadian has taken the last three, all coming in Grand Slam play including most recently in New York last September.
Wawrinka, despite the loss, was feeling good about where his game is headed after a lengthy bout with injuries.
“It’s frustrating to lose to guys, especially in a match with four tiebreakers,” Wawrinka said. “I think the level today was quite good. I’m happy if I look the big picture. I’m happy with my level, the way I was moving, the way I’m playing in general.
“I think he also played really well. For sure, when it’s that tight, the match can change for one, two points. I miss few little points that could have changed the match.”
Raonic now meets Pierre-Hugues Herbert who dispatched 2018 semifinalist Hyeon Chung in four sets.
“He’s played well,” Raonic said of the Frenchman. “Two very good wins over Sam and over Chung. I think we’re going to try to play a similar way. I think he does things at the net well. He tries to play aggressive. He tries to take swipes at the ball. I think we’re both going to be looking for the opportunity to dictate and who can control more.”
On MCA, Kei Nishikori had his own thrill ride. After escaping in round one, Nishikori drew the ever-dangerous big man Ivo Karlovic and the 39-year-old came to play. Karlovic pumped 59 aces and broke Nishikori a number of times. And late in the fifth, Nishikori had to dig out of a 0-40 hole at 4-all. The Japanese who is known for his tremendous find set record, won the last four points of the match tiebreak to take it 6-3, 7-6(6), 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(7).
“Today I think he almost have the match, especially in the fifth set, and, yeah, it was really tough match,” said Nishikori. “Could go both ways. Also the tiebreak, super-tiebreak could go his way, too.
“I don’t know how I managed, you know, to save couple of break points, but very happy to win today. You know, I think this means a lot.”
Denis Shapovalov hasn’t dropped a set as the 19-year-old joined countryman Raonic in the third round, getting past and overmatched Taro Daniel 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3.
“I think it was another exceptional match for me,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously he’s a very tough opponent. I knew that going in. I knew it was going to be tough. I’m really happy to get through that in straight sets. I wasn’t expecting that, to be honest. I felt in the second set he had a couple chances. I was able to play some big tennis.”
In his first Australian Open third round match, Shapovalov will face world No. 1 Novak Djokovic who eased past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in a match that ended at 12:40am.
Djokovic has now won 15 of his last 16 against Tsonga, and leads the Frenchman 17-6 overall.
“Novak is definitely one of the big guys I really admired and looked up to growing up,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be awesome, just awesome to play against him, see how my game matches up against his.
“Honestly, there’s no pressure on me now. Obviously he’s the favorite to win. I’m just going to go out there, give it my best shot, and see what happens. I think I’ve been playing really good tennis, so if that continues, I think I could have a chance to really make it a battle and a tough match for him. Hopefully potentially even try to win the match.”
A pair of surprising Australians advanced. French Open junior champ Alexei Popyrin, just 19, got a retirement win over Dominic Thiem who called the match down 7-5, 6-4, 2-0 due to fatigue.
“I felt very bad during the game, obviously,” Thiem said. “Yesterday after the long match I felt really fine, actually. Started to feel like my whole body hurt, general not feeling well at all, and in the match it got worse. Whole body was hurting, I was feeling weak, and there was no sense to continue.”
For someone alleged to be one of the fittest guys on tour, that’s a tough exit.
Popyrin will meet Frenchman Lucas Pouille who was a winner over Max Marterer. And he’ll hope to keep Australian on top of France after Alex Bolt saved four match points in a stunning win over veteran Gilles Simon 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 on a raucous court 3.
In the evening, Alexander Zverev got through Jeremy Chardy in five sets. Zverev led by two sets, then let Chardy back in squandering numerous break chances and a match point before the Frenchmen, who went five sets in the first round, faded at the end. Zverev now gets Bolt.
On Friday, Rafael Nadal resumes his bid for a second career Slam against Australian Alex de Minaur. The 19-year-old “demon” comes in flying high off a Sydney title, but how much will he have left after a tough 5-set win Wednesday night?
Two-time defending champion Roger Federer is back to face American upstart Taylor Fritz. Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych and Stefanos Tsitsipas will also see action.
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