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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Australian Open Day 7: Djokovic reaches quarters, Raonic downs Cilic

Defending champion Novak Djokovic continued his imperious progress to reach Australian Open quarters while Milos Raonic pounded down 35 aces and 55 winners to overcome Croatian Marin Cilic 6-4 6-3 7-5.

By: Reuters | Updated: January 26, 2020 9:52:21 pm
Novak Djokovic in action during his match against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman. (Source: Reuters)

Novak Djokovic continued his imperious progress through the Australian Open draw on Sunday, negotiating a potentially tricky encounter with Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-4 6-4 to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park for the 11th time.

The seven-times champion only added to a strong feeling around the tournament that the Serbian is again the man to beat at the year’s first Grand Slam as he ousted the Argentine in just over two hours on Rod Laver Arena.

The defending champion broke for 5-3 and served out for the opening set before grabbing early breaks in the next two stanzas and successfully resisting Schwartzman’s attempts to get back on terms.

The 32-year-old second seed wrapped up the contest by serving out to love and was delighted to have successfully executed his gameplan.

“It feels great, it was a very solid performance,” he told reporters.

“Today was a good test because Diego was in form, he hasn’t dropped a set in three rounds. Obviously he can be a very dangerous opponent from the baseline if you give him time. I knew that.

“I stepped out on the court with a clear game plan what I need to do. I think I kept things pretty much in control in all three sets. Maybe could have finished the match a bit earlier.”

Djokovic negated Schwartzman’s threat by using his slice to bring the quick 14th seed off the baseline and, saving two of the three break points he faced, always looked like he had another gear he could shift up to.

The match was played in a good spirit with Djokovic reaching over the net for a high five when Schwartzman produced a magnificent drop shot to win a point.

Watched by Australian great Rod Laver, Djokovic also produced some breathtaking skill, most notably a 360 degree spin close in that enabled him to get a backhand volley on a ball that had hit the net cord.

Djokovic moves on to a quarter-final meeting with Canadian Milos Raonic, who he has beaten in all nine of their previous meetings — including at the same stage of the 2015 tournament.

“This will be a different match-up to the one today,” said the 16-times Grand Slam champion.

“Raonic is one of tallest and strongest players. He’s also got one of biggest serves. I’m ready for missiles.

“One of key elements will be how well I’m returning. It’s good to see Milos healthy. He’s a great guy and good friend.”

In-form Raonic downs Cilic to ease into quarter-finals

In-form Canadian Milos Raonic pounded down 35 aces and 55 winners to overcome Croatian Marin Cilic 6-4 6-3 7-5 on Sunday and become the first man to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

The 29-year-old, a former world number three, is seeded a lowly 32nd at Melbourne Park but has been in impressive form over the first week and reached the last eight without losing a set.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, may have been feeling the effects of two five-set matches against seeded opponents earlier in the tournament and needed a lengthy medical timeout for treatment on his back at 3-0 down in the second set.

Also a former world number three, the 31-year-old still had enough game to test Raonic, especially when he was able to engage the Canadian in lengthier rallies.

Raonic was consistently sending down serves well in excess of 200 kilometres per hour (124 mph), however, and it was appropriate that he finished the match on Margaret Court Arena with one final booming ace.

“I’m just happy to be playing well, to be playing in this kind of atmosphere and this kind of support,” said Raonic, a semi-finalist in Melbourne in 2016.

“It feels pretty damn good I’ve gotta say, I can’t complain about it. It’s been an exciting tournament for me so far and hopefully there are exciting things ahead.”

In the last eight, Raonic is likely to face Novak Djokovic, who was playing Diego Schwartzman on Rod Laver Arena as the Canadian wrapped up his match.

The Serbian has a 9-0 career record against Raonic, including a win in the quarter-finals in Melbourne in 2015.

The Montenegro-born world number 35 said he would need to be on top of his game to get past the defending champion.

“I think I’m going have to hit more … aces,” he laughed.

Sandgren in quarter-finals for second time after Fognini ‘war’

World number 100 Tennys Sandgren reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second time in three years with a 7-6(5) 7-5 6-7(2) 6-4 victory over combustible Italian Fabio Fognini on Sunday.

The American took a two-set lead, held his nerve as his 12th-seeded opponent suffered a meltdown and triumphed after a rollercoaster ride of a match to set up a last-eight meeting with Roger Federer or Marton Fucsovics.

Fognini had battled through two five-set matches at the tournament, including coming from two sets down in the opening round, and another looked on the cards when he won the third set on the tiebreak.

The fourth set stayed on serve until Sandgren produced three straight aces to hold for 5-4 and carried the momentum through to the following game, wrapping up the win with a drop shot from his knees at the net after a 26-stroke rally.

Sandgren dropped his racket to the floor and gave a flamboyant bow to the crowd as Fognini walked around the net to offer his congratulations.

“That was fun right?” Sandgren said. “Playing him is just a war you know, he’s so good. I was expecting a fight and I got it.”

That the match finished with a display of mutual respect was by no means guaranteed after Fognini had protested against a call at the end of the first set and then stormed off court for seven minutes on a toilet break.

POINT PENALTY

Sandgren accused the referee of lacking the courage to penalise Fognini, who was subsequently docked a point penalty for refusing to play after being broken in his first service game of the second set.

Fognini, complaining of blisters, ripped off his shirt and protested about that call too. After going 4-0 down, the Italian won the next five games but, as the players continued to snipe at each other across the net, Sandgren edged the set.

Fognini did not want to discuss the incidents after the match and Sandgren said he was unclear what had happened. “It seemed odd… I was just trying to keep my composure and stay focused,” he said. “Sometimes I can mouth off a little bit as far as speaking my mind as a way to vent. I was getting a little frustrated as to why we weren’t playing yet.”

Sandgren’s run to the last eight in 2018 was shrouded in controversy because of links to far-right activists on his social media account. Since then, he has played a last-16 match at Wimbledon and reached the third round at the US Open.

Sunday’s victory was his fifth against a player ranked in the top 20 at a Grand Slam, a remarkable record for a man who has spent much of his career playing on satellite tours.

“Maybe I haven’t had that many looks or wasn’t supposed to. Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Sandgren said when asked to explain it. “Getting to play… in front of a lot of people, because I’ve played a lot of tennis in front of very few people, the fact I get to do that seems to bring out the best tennis in me.”

Federer shifts gear after slow start to reach quarters

Roger Federer regained control after a slow start against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics to march into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open with a 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 win on a chilly evening at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday. The six-time Australian Open winner, who was two points from defeat against John Millman in his previous round, looked rusty in the opening set against Fucsovics in a repeat of their fourth-round clash here in 2018.

“The morning after Johnny’s match and this morning I lay in bed for an hour thinking, ‘when are we going to stand up? Okay 1-2-3, huh, and how do I feel?” he laughed, referring to his 4-6 7-6(2) 6-4 4-6 7-6(8) win over Millman. “I was able to recover; I’m sure I’m going to feel better every day that goes by after that match.”

Fucsovics had not won a set against Federer in their previous two meetings but wiped that off his record after getting the only break in the seventh game of the opener when the Swiss committed three straight unforced errors.

“It was a tough start, I thought that Marton played clean, I struggled with the (after-effects) from the Millman match,” said the 38-year-old Federer, who hit 44 winners as opposed to 36 unforced errors against Fucsovics. “He gave me a beat-down from the baseline so maybe he took my confidence away a little bit. It just took some time, I was looking to maybe mix it up a little bit more. It gets pretty slow in the night time, especially when it’s cool like this.”

The 20-times Grand Slam winner shifted up a gear in the second set and broke Fucsovics’s serve twice to level the match. Federer maintained his intensity in the third and a couple of early breaks gave him a 4-0 lead while he broke Fucsovics twice more in the fourth set to complete the victory.

With the cool conditions and a bit of breeze both players struggled with their first serves, with Fucsovics, who has now lost all six of his matches against top-five opponents, getting in 47% of his.

“It’s frosty,” joked Federer. “It’s not that cold, it’s fresh. We know how it can be in Australia this time of year. It’s better this way. I don’t know who wants it incredibly hot.”

The third-seeded Federer will now face American Tennys Sandgren, who defeated No. 12 seed Fabio Fognini 7-6(5) 7-5 6-7(2) 6-4 earlier on Sunday. Federer was visibly in a good mood after reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals for the 15th time and engaged in some light banter about his next opponent’s unusual first name.

“He was not going to be a baseball player, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to it,” he said, before breaking into laughter. “I’ve played a lot of tennis in my life but never against Tennys.”

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