MELBOURNE – Milos Raonic played impressive tennis during the two matches at this Australian Open in which he struggled with the flu.
If you didn’t know, you might not have even known.
Monday night against No. 13 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, by all appearances well on his way to recovery, the 26-year-old Canadian played through extended patches as though the flu had knocked him for a loop.
He was flat. There wasn’t much spark. He was annoyed, regularly chewing out the people in his supporters’ box for transgressions real and imagined. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to turn a racquet into a piece of modern art.
But on a night when he wasn’t very good, Raonic turned out to be a little lucky as he survived some inspired play from his Spanish opponent and snuck out a 7-6(6) 3-6 6-4 6-1 victory that put him into the quarter-finals.
Raonic had five chances to cash in an insurance service break and a 4-0 lead in the first set, which would have essentially locked that one up and given him significant momentum going forward.
He couldn’t do it. Then he surrendered the break he did have on a double-fault. Suddenly, it seemed Bautista Agut was drawing Raonic into a grinding baseline game and he was coming off second-best. He was, as he’s wont to say, becoming too passive.
Raonic was down 5-1 in the first set tiebreaker. Suddenly, luckily, a let cord went his way. He played a couple of super points from the baseline then managed a backhand crosscourt passing shot of the type he doesn’t make that often.
Somehow, he pulled that one out.
The momentum didn’t last in the second set, even if once again began it with break of serve. The remonstrating to his team continued. Broken on another double fault, Raonic lost six of the next seven games and surrendered the set.
“I had many break points in the third set. He served a lot of aces. He served really well. I had a lot of break points but didn’t get the chance to play the point well. It was not easy to convert,” Bautista Agut said afterwards. “I thought I controlled the match, controlled the play, in the first two sets.”
Raonic, of course, took a bathroom break after that second set. The lack of consistent rhythm from both seeped into the logistics of the match itself with a brief interruption as a few sprinkles hit the court, and the officials stopped play briefly.
By 3-3, they did stop play. There was at least a 10-minute break as they closed the retractable roof over Hisense Arena and dried off the rain that had already fallen.
Bautista Agut went to change his clothes, then had treatment on his left quad, as Raonic sat and stewed in his chair.
He was being backed into such a corner trying to hit forehands – outside the doubles alley at times. The shot became riskier and after missing one, the Canadian even fired his racquet.
While the effort might have failed, it did seem to have the effect of changing the momentum of a patchy match one final time. There was a spring in Raonic’s step that hadn’t been there for nearly 2 1/2 hours.
He broke Bautista Agut to take that third set, began the fourth emphatically holding his serve at love, and rolled from there.
“I think he got sort of de-motivated, and it sort of took him down. And obviously he’s coming off the end of a very difficult and physical match from two days ago (against countryman David Ferrer), so… When the emotions go, as well, it can get pretty hard,” Raonic said. “Most of the match, it was quite inconsistent I think from both of us. I was sort of there on the brink in the end of the third set, then turned it around. Made it really count, I think. After I held off those two break points, I was able to reel off seven games or something along those lines,” he added.
“I was fortunate to get that point because it definitely could have been much longer,” he added.