Milos Raonic, Using Serve-and-Volley Tactics, Ousts Stan Wawrinka in Australia


Milos Raonic of Canada beat Stan Wawrinka for the first time in five meetings.

Lukas Coch/European Pressphoto Agency

MELBOURNE, Australia — Milos Raonic persevered with his serve-and-volley game plan Monday, holding firm even in the deciding set after Stan Wawrinka had rallied from two sets down to force a fifth.

It paid off with 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 victory that secured his spot in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.

It was Raonic’s first victory in five matches against the fourth-seeded Wawrinka, the winner of the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open.

Raonic, the No. 13 seed, said he felt fitter, faster and more confident in going to the net more frequently, and all that combined to produce his first win on Melbourne Park’s center court.

“For me,” he said, “I think it was more you have these guys, these Grand Slam champions, guys that have been playing great, and to beat one of them for the first time at a Slam, doesn’t matter if that was on Court 15 or whichever court, it has a very concrete sort of message to the work I’m putting in and how I’m going about things.”

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Raonic, a 25-year-old Canadian, is into the quarterfinals for the fourth time at the majors, including a loss here last year to Novak Djokovic. Next up, he will face No. 23 Gaël Monfils, who reached the last eight in Australia for the first time in 11 trips with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Andrei Kuznetsov.

David Ferrer reached his sixth quarterfinal at the Australian Open, holding off No. 10 John Isner, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.

A two-time Australian Open semifinalist, Ferrer has not dropped a set in four rounds and will next play Andy Murray, who defeated Bernard Tomic, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

On the women’s side, the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka returned to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Barbaro Strycova. A growing favorite for the title in a strong comeback from two injury-interrupted seasons, Azarenka next faces No. 7 Angelique Kerber, who beat her fellow German Annika Beck, 6-4, 6-0.

Johanna Konta’s strong run at the Australian Open continued with a 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 win over the 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova. Konta, who was born and raised in Australia but became a British citizen in 2012, became the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to advance to the quarterfinals in Australia.

Konta will next face No. 133-ranked Zhang Shuai, her sometimes practice partner. Zhang, 27, had lost in the first round of 14 Grand Slams dating back to 2008, and played so poorly last year, she thought the Australian Open might be the final tournament of her career.

Instead, Zhang, a qualifier, is into the quarterfinals of the season’s first major after defeating an injured Madison Keys, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Keys, who broke through to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne last year, dominated the first set with powerful groundstrokes that Zhang had trouble returning.

But she began to feel pain in her left leg early in the second set and, after taking a medical timeout to have her upper thigh wrapped, had difficulty putting any weight on her leg to serve and looked increasingly in pain as the match wore on.

She later said she kept playing because “One, I hate retiring. Two, you don’t want to do that to someone who is trying to get into the quarterfinals.”

Raonic and Wawrinka were both on seven-match winning streaks entering the fourth round, having won titles leading into the season’s first major. Raonic won in Brisbane, beating Roger Federer in the final, and Wawrinka in Chennai.

Raonic dominated in the first two sets, but then Wawrinka went on a roll and it appeared he was ready to come back from two-sets down to win for a seventh time at a major. But momentum shifted again, when his attempted passing shot landed long in the sixth game of the fifth, giving Raonic the decisive break.

For Raonic, it was vindication that his plan to dictate with his serve and move forward was working. He won 37 of the 57 serve-and-volley points he played. He won 22 of his 25 service games, broke Wawrinka’s serve five times and had 82 winners to Wawrinka’s 52.

“I think it’s what helped me win in Brisbane,” Raonic said of his serve-and-volley tactics. “It’s what helped me win my first three matches here, is that comfort and confidence of going forward. “But not even just that. In the off-season I spent a lot of time up at the net. So it’s not just about a confidence, it’s about an understanding of what I need to do.”

Carlos Moya, a former No. 1 player, has joined Raonic’s coaching team for 2016, and may help take him to the next level.

“I think it’s just about a calm, and understanding how I can be more efficient with my game,” Raonic said, explaining that Moya was there to help him get organized on and off the court. “Today was a good example of that.”

Wawrinka said he was feeling drained after an illness in recent days, and was surprised to push Raonic to five. He had to concede Raonic was capable of a major breakthrough, if he could put back-to-back wins over the likes of Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer. Raonic reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2014, losing to Federer.

“He’s been semifinal already; he beat some top guys already,” Wawrinka said. “Always been dangerous with his serve. For sure he will have some chance to go far in Grand Slam. But to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat two of the big four. It’s never easy.”

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