Milos Raonic is finally aware of how good he really is… at least that’s what his new coach Carlos Moya believes after he watched his charge upset No4 seed Stan Wawrinka in five sets to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on Monday.
Entering his fourth round carrying a 0-4 head-to-head against Wawrinka, Raonic scored his first win over the Swiss in dramatic fashion, venturing up to the net an incredible 83 times en route to a 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 success.
History was made in the process as Raonic, the No13 seed, became the first Canadian ever to reach four grand slam quarter-finals.
The 1.96m ace machine has now won his last eight consecutive matches, having captured the title in Brisbane to kick off his season, and will face Gael Monfils for a place in the semi-finals.
Raonic has looked like a man on a mission from the start of the year and he handed Wawrinka a loss on January 1 in Abu Dhabi, albeit in exhibition play.
After struggling for most of 2015 with injuries, he finally feels fit and has this aura of confidence around him that was never as evident before.
He brought in Moya to replace Ivan Ljubicic, who joined Roger Federer’s coaching staff, and their first tournament together is shaping up to be a big hit.
After beating Federer in the Brisbane final, Raonic has now notched two top-four victories barely four weeks into the new year.
“For sure he’s a more mature player right now. He’s injury-free which is very good... And now he sort of put things together and he’s playing his best tennis,” Moya said after Raonic’s win.
“I think also mentally he stepped up. He probably wasn’t aware of how good he was and now he starts to realise that he has all the weapons it takes to be a champion and it’s about using them properly.”
Against Wawrinka yesterday, Raonic was the aggressor while his opponent, struggling with a cold since the start of the tournament, fought hard to try and shift the momentum by the third set.
But after Wawrinka levelled the match for two-sets-all, Raonic did not panic - in fact he says he was calm, and his tennis showed it as he didn’t face a single break point in the fifth.
Serving and volleying like it’s 1985, Raonic was successful 54/83 times at the net and he finished the match with a stunning 82 winners against 53 unforced errors.
“I felt very clear in what I needed to do and I believed that I could do it. I think that gave me some kind of calm and some kind of peace inside,” said Raonic of how he felt at the start of the fifth. “There was a very strong belief that the opportunities I was creating, I would be able to make the most of it...
“Last nine months for me, everything was a question. Some days I was hiding the disappointments I was having because of injuries, some days I was not.
“But I think the more as I mature, the more I understand my game, what I need to do, the more I can keep a quiet head on my shoulders.”
Raonic’s all-out aggressive game has been in the making for quite some time. The 25-year-old, the youngest of the eight quarter-finalists, says the time he spent away from the game while injured allowed him to think of ways he can improve.
“When I was sort of sitting there maybe a little bit annoyed with the physical situation I was in, I was asking myself all the time ‘what can I do to get better?’ It was something definitely I felt was necessary for me,” he explains.
Moya says his goal since he started working with Raonic was to convince him what his weapons were and organising the way to use them. He has encouraged him to continue with his attacking game but says it’s important to mix things up.
“He’s a big guy, he has a huge forehand and serve. Here the courts are fast. It’s not easy to pass a guy like him. He has a good volley, good technique. It’s good to mix it up,” said the Spanish coach and ex-world No1.
“To me, sometimes today he served and volleyed in the fourth set every point. So Wawrinka kind of expected him to come to the net. We talked about that, to be more unpredictable.”
On his part, Wawrinka said he was surprised he could take the match to five sets, and said his illness had taken its toll on him.
“I think I honestly come from too far. I've been sick since 10 days now. Still trying to get into the second week. Couldn't really be at my top. When you play a top guy like Milos, it's difficult. You need to be 100 per cent to have a chance to beat him,” said the world No4.
“Today he pushed from the beginning. He was there. That's it. He was better.”
Raonic’s next opponent seems like the polar opposite of the Canadian. Monfils is flamboyant and entertaining; Raonic seems serious and his game is comparatively monotonous.
“I guess the way I describe myself is trying to be efficient,” says Raonic on why he shows little emotion on the court.
“I know from when I was a junior I learned in many tough lessons that sort of when I get too emotional for the positive I can start going to a negative too fast. That cost me too many matches.”
Moya says it’s important to quickly put the Wawrinka win behind them to focus on the next challenge.
“It’s going to be important not to think too much about this match that he just won. It’s a huge win to be honest but still he’s halfway to his biggest goal, which is to win the slam so he has to be calm and knowing that his next match is going to be very difficult as well and we have to help him on that,” said Moya.