What did Rafa have in his favour coming into the Australian Open? Hardly anything. He was coming back from an injury and a dull season, on a surface that is not his favourite surface and with much uncertainty of form. He did make a great showing at the Abu Dhabi exhibition event winning the title but the grand slam scenario was always going to be different. But, now, Rafael Nadal has defied all odds at Melbourne Park as he is through to the last four after his comprehensive victory over Milos Raonic in his quarter-final match on Wednesday. He downed the big-serving Canadian in 2 hours and 44 minutes without dropping a set. He won the match 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4.
The story of the straight sets beatdown by Nadal
The first set was on serve till 3-3. Nadal then broke Raonic’s serve to make it 4-3. He would hold serve twice to win the first set 6-4. The competition in the second set was fiercer. Raonic had two set points when Nadal was serving at 4-5 but could not convert any of them. With no breaks of serve during the set, it proceeded to a tiebreaker. With a majestic lob in the tiebreak Raonic created two set points. But Nadal would win the next two points; he won the first one on his serve and then the second one on the Raonic serve. At 7-8 Raonic hit a forehand that would bounce off the net cord to land outside the court. Nadal was then 2 sets to love up. Raonic found it difficult to focus in the third set. He would lose his service game at 4-5 at love to give away the match finally.
Well, many expected this match to be a tough one for both. Rafa had been playing great but Milos Raonic had actually beaten the Spaniard at Brisbane International in the first week of the season. Since this surface at Melbourne is pretty sleek, Raonic did have some chances of getting the big win. The match panned out very differently with Nadal dictating the match and taking his game to the opponent. His backhand was lethal but his forehand was sublime. His forehand really helped him to get the edge in rallies as Raonic found it hard to play rallies beyond 6 or 7 shots. Nadal won 83% of his first serve points which is a great sign. Nadal even won 22 of his 25 net points; he hit great approach shots. Raonic’s serve did not matter much. His net point conversion rate (52%) was low for a player who is looking to bank on big serves. He could not convert any of his 4 break points during the match. It was not an awful match for him but the Canadian needs to do so much better to beat the ‘old big 4’ at slams. One aspect of his game holding him back is his inability to stay in fierce rallies with a top player. Perhaps, his volleys need improvement too.
From the pressers
Rafael Nadal is pleased with how things have gone for him in the open so far. He has made it to his first slam semi-final since his French Open title run in 2014. This will be his first semi-final in hard court slams since Australian Open in 2014.
“It was good news and winning against difficult players [like] Monfils, Zverev and now Raonic. I think all of them are top players. So, that’s very important for me because that means that I am competitive and playing well.”
“So, very happy that after a lot of work to be in this round again is a special thing for me. ”
Rafael Nadal received a lot of serves very close to the baseline changing his strategy that he used against Milos Raonic at Brisbane International (which was to receive serves father back, behind the baseline). He was feeling really comfortable returning serves from inside the baseline.
“I felt well from inside. And, I felt that I was putting some pressure on him. So, I decided to stay in almost all the time.”
Raonic summarised the match in the following manner.
“There were some opportunities in the second set. Other than that, there wasn’t much for me to hold onto. I thought he did some things well. I thought, you know, he took the match to me. He did something a little bit different than he normally does. And he played better than I did. ”
Prospect of a Fedal final still alive
What was ridiculous to think a week back is a real possibility now; a Federer-Nadal final. If Roger and Rafa can win their semi-final matches it will mean that they would face each other in a slam final for the first time in 5 years a half and that would also be a rematch of the Australian Open final in 2009. That would be another classic bout between the two legends for the fans!
More to come…
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