Milos Raonic overcame his toughest Australian Open challenge to date this year, winning a five-set match over Feliciano Lopez of Spain on Monday.
The 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(9-7), 6-3 victory puts Raonic in the quarterfinals where he will world number one Novak Djokovic.
Lopez, seeded 12th, posed a challenge for Raonic being a big server. The two players traded service games until Raonic won the night’s first break point on his second chance to take the opening set 6-4.
In the second, Lopez turned the tables on Raonic by breaking the Canadian when the two players were tied 4-4. The Spaniard consolidated and won the set – the first dropped by Raonic at this tournament – on the next game.
Raonic was in command of the third set from the start, holding serve on either side of winning a break point from Lopez to go up 3-0. It was his best set of the match thus far, winning 81% of his first serve points, committing no double faults, and limiting unforced errors to seven after 19 of them through the first two sets.
Unfortunately in the fourth set, mistakes would resurface in large numbers for Raonic – 15 unforced errors – allowing Lopez to take advantage. The players held serve right to the limit until a tiebreak would be needed to decide the outcome. There, Raonic had two match points at 6-5 and 7-6, but Lopez clawed back each time, winning three straight points on the second of those occasions to take the tiebreak 9-7.
In the all-important fifth set, Raonic was back to his old self, lowering unforced errors to just six and winning 89% of his first serves. Meanwhile, pressure seemed to get to Lopez, as he would double fault to lose serve, handing Raonic a 5-3 lead, from there the Canadian served out to win the set and match.
“It was a lot of fun, it was great atmosphere,” Raonic said thanking the fans for sticking around for the three hours and eight minutes it took to conclude the fourth round showdown. Set number four alone took 53 minutes to complete.
“It’s great to see all the red and white coming out to all the tournaments,” Raonic remarked on the loud and visible Canadian support in the stands, a contingent that seems to be growing at big events.
On the prospect of facing another strong opponent in the quarterfinals Raonic told the audience “that’s what I look forward to. It’s great to be here in the second week, obviously there was some great tennis played today and it’s only going to get better.”
It is the first time Raonic has made the final eight at the Australian Open and he is the first Canadian male to do it since Michael Belkin in 1968. Raonic will face Djokovic in the quarterfinals, most likely on Wednesday.