Raonic to serve up a challenge for Nadal

MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal knows he must find a way to defuse the booming serve of Milos Raonic today if he is to stay on course for a dream Australian Open final with Roger Federer.

The chances of a ninth Grand Slam final between the old rivals have dramatically improved after the shock exits of top seeds Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic put the title up for grabs.

But 30-year-old Nadal, the 14-time Grand Slam champion, first has to get past third seed Raonic, the highest-ranked player of the men's quarter-finalists.

The Canadian, yet to win his first Grand Slam title, suffered heartbreak in last year's Melbourne semi-finals when a groin injury put paid to his chances against Murray.

But he should pose Nadal his biggest problem yet while the Spaniard is bidding to end a Grand Slam title drought stretching back to the 2014 French Open.

The winner will face either Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov or Belgian David Goffin in the semi-final in the bottom half of the draw.

Nadal leads Raonic 6-2 in their meetings, but he lost to the powerful server this month, over three sets in the Brisbane International quarter-finals.

"He's an opponent that makes you feel you're playing with a lot of pressure all the time because his serve is huge and he's playing very aggressive from the baseline," Nadal said. "So it's going to be a very tough match and I need to be very focused with my serve and play aggressive. If I am not playing aggressive, then I am dead."

Raonic, who is working with Dutch Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, has served 93 aces in the tournament, second only to 2.11m-tall Croatian Ivo Karlovic.

Looking back on his recent win over Nadal in Brisbane, the Canadian said: "We both tried to be the aggressor early on. I fought through a difficult moment midway through that second set. Then, I thought I had it pretty handily after that point. Obviously it's very within me to find those solutions again."

Dimitrov, who will be playing in his third Grand Slam quarter-final, downed Goffin in their only meeting, at the 2014 US Open.

The Bulgarian 15th seed said: "David is an excellent player. I know what to expect from him. He's been serving really well and has served his way out of trouble. It's one of his biggest weapons and he's one of the greatest defenders out there."

Goffin became the first Belgian man to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals when he knocked out eighth seed Dominic Thiem.

"I'm feeling more confident against the top players. I've had a lot of matches before the tournament," Goffin said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Raonic to serve up a challenge for Nadal'. Print Edition | Subscribe