Back in quarterfinals, Djokovic looks to take aim at Raonic's serve

Back in quarterfinals, Djokovic looks to take aim at Raonic's serve

The Serb is 9-0 against the Canadian, who reached his fifth career Australian Open quarterfinal on Sunday.

Novak Djokovic's comfort level with the Australian Open is obvious. The Serb is a seven-time champion at the hard-court Slam, and he's never lost a final in Melbourne. Once Djokovic gets going Down Under, he's nearly impossible to stop—as Diego Schwartzman found out Sunday. The 14th-seeded Argentine, whose rallying prowess could have been seen as a potential challenge for Djokovic, was no match in the fourth round, going down 3, 4 and 4.

"Today was a good test because Diego was in form, he hasn't dropped a set in three rounds," Djokovic said. "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.

"But, you know, all in all, it was a very solid performance."

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If Djokovic is to be stopped before the final, the quarterfinal stage offers some hope for his opposition. He's lost three Aussie Open quarters in his career—in 2009, 2010 and 2014, to Andy Roddick, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka, respectively. (Djokovic has never lost in the semifinal round.) And in the opinion of some, his quarterfinal opponent, Milos Raonic, might have the best opportunity to derail his latest run.

Faith in Raonic to pull off the upset is solely based on the Canadian's lethal serve, which is good enough to neutralize anything in tennis on the right day. A path to victory would presumably see Raonic hold pretty much every service game, and outdo Djokovic in tiebreakers.

"I feel like Raonic moves better than Isner and Karlovic," said Djokovic, the game's best returner, when asked about the game's best servers. "I mean, he's not as tall as these two guys. They're 6'10" or something ... Obviously it's a huge advantage when you hit serves from that height. You can hit any angle, anything you really want. That puts a lot of pressure on your opponent.

"But, of course, that also has some disadvantages in terms of movement. If the returner gets the ball back in play, then I think Raonic is better than these two guys."

Small problem with that: Djokovic is pretty amazing in tiebreakers, where the points just mean more. Fire up last year's Wimbledon final if you've forgotten that.

And there's this: Raonic is 0-9 against Djokovic. His three-set loss two summers ago in Cincinnati was the first time Raonic won so much as a set against Djokovic in seven matches.

Surely, there's a mental element to the lopsided record Djokovic holds over Raonic. The former applies pressure with his return as much as latter does with his serve. But it's more than that, according to Djokovic.

"I feel like maybe you could read his serve better than Isner and Karlovic," he said. "I don't want to say it's slightly slower, but just a little bit of a different toss, different technique. You can probably get some looks at second serves or breakpoints and stuff like this maybe a bit more than the other two guys.

"Again, it's such a minor difference that you don't really notice it so much. But on the court it makes a big difference."

A big difference, indeed. But the big server, who hasn't lost a set through four rounds—including a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Marin Cilic on Sunday—gave himself another chance, which is all he can ask for.

Seeded 32nd, Raonic has an overlooked comfort level with the Australian Open. This marks his fifth trip to the quarterfinal stage, the most final-eight appearances at any major.

"It's always been very positive for me here, and I always found a way to play well," Raonic said. "And, you know, [being] fresh physically and mentally at the start of the year and having some time to train in the off-season, it does me a lot of good."

It didn't take long for the post-match discussion, however, to turn to Djokovic. What does Raonic need to do to end a nine-match run of futility?

"I'm going to have to serve well, clearly, and then I think I'm going to have to get my return at a high percentage, make him play a lot of those points, and then try to be efficient on my service games," Raonic said. "You know, I think we play quite opposite from each other, and he's done a good job in the past neutralizing my serve. So I have really got to focus on my things well and be the one dictating."

"Cincinnati I had more of my opportunities than most times. I think I was up a break in each set. So I have got to be sharp in those moments if I can create them and if they arise."

Based on their history and match-up, it's likely that Djokovic will get the last word when these two meet on Tuesday. So I'll give Raonic the last word here. He was asked a question that you don't need a 140 M.P.H. serve to give your opinion on: will Djokovic finish with more Grand Slam titles than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal?

"I just hope I can stop him at this one," replied a smiling Raonic.

Spoken like a player who will need to have his greatest day on serve, against a player who may go down as the greatest of all time.