Canada’s young stars have been all the rage in the southern California, but let’s not forget the Canuck who started it all for his country in singles.
Milos Raonic has maneuvered his way quite expertly through a wide-open top half of the men’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open this year, shutting the door on American serving-rival Sam Querrey as well as a spirited third-round effort by qualifier Marcos Giron, who lead by a break in the third set before the 28-year-old came storming back.
In the fourth round, Raonic was just as clinical. Against Jan-Lennard Struff, the No. 13 seed rectified the tactical problems that saw him lose to the German two weeks ago in Dubai, taking care of his serve and capitalizing on the opportunities he was able to generate on Struff’s own potent delivery.
Raonic ultimately struck 12 aces and saved three three break points en route to advancing 6-4, 6-3 in one hour, 14 minutes. Although his first-serve percentage hovered just above the 50 per cent mark, he was 85 percent successful when those first serves went in. Struff, on the other hand, hit one of his two double faults on set point in the first set, a crucial error that he failed to recover from.
The 6’5” Canadian moves on to the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open for the fifth time in as many appearances, having made the final back in 2016 and the semifinals last year before losing a heartbreaker to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro. Is there something about the desert that brings out the best in Raonic?
“It’s always worked out that I have had a little bit of a training period before this event,” assessed Raonic. “I have tried to incorporate things in that time. I have sort of sharpened up things on and off the court.”
“The conditions are good. There is a very good amount of Canadian support here. I think it’s one that I feel the most comfortable at.”
Standing between him and the semifinals is Serbian teenager Miomir Kecmanovic, who was a lucky loser entrant into the main draw following the withdrawal of Kevin Anderson last week. The world No. 130 has made the most of his luck after narrowly losing to Giron in the final round of qualifying, blasting past Maximilian Marterer and compatriot Laslo Djere in straight sets.
Today, he took his tournament one stage further with a retirement victory over Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, who was unable to continue in their Stadium 2 match after dropping the first set 6-4 to the #NextGenATP from Serbia.
“It’s funny that at these big events to have two, three wins and you’re already there,” said Kecmanovic. “So it’s very lucky. You know, thank you to Anderson for pulling out.”
His quarterfinal meeting with Raonic will be their second this year, after the Canadian got the better of him back in Brisbane in the second round, a 6-3, 7-6(2) decision that exposed a gap in experience between the two players of Slavic heritage.
In the final eight, however, head-to-heads won’t matter. It will be Raonic versus Kecmanovic – one of the best serves in the game against a pupil of Novak Djokovic – to move one step closer to the trophy.