Two spots remain up for grabs in the Australian Open quarter-finals. Here are five things to remember.
1. Rafael Nadal has been on fire – except when significantly down on serve
In his four set clash with Gael Monfils – which almost ended in straight sets, and then appeared destined for a fifth – Rafael Nadal often looked in vintage form. His forehand was potent, his serve dominant, his groundstrokes deep and his net game confident. Nevertheless, in all three games in which he faced break points – twice down 0-40, and once down 15-40 – he never managed to hold serve. And it almost cost him dearly.
That it did not is evidence as to how much Nadal looks like his mentally phenomenal self once more. But one would guess that Milos Raonic – the highest-ranked man left in the draw – will put the Spaniard in a lot more of these uncomfortable positions than Monfils. With a serve that is much harder to break back, Nadal needs to figure out how to take things one point at a time and emerge unscathed. Because actually, many of those key points he lost were on his racquet.
2. Milos Raonic looks for healing one year on
While he mightily impressed in dispatching Roger Federer to win the 2016 Brisbane International title, it was at the Aussie Open of the same year where Raonic really showcased his new-and-improved self. On fire, inflicting devastating damage with bombing serves and grounstrokes, the Canadian looked set for a maiden major final. But injury struck as he was one set away from victory over Andy Murray, and his heart was left more hurt than anything as he succumbed in five sets.
The pain of that semifinal loss did not stop Raonic from achieving throughout the rest of the season – as a Wimbledon final showing proves. Nevertheless, memories of that blow surely resurrected when he touched down in Melbourne. The world no. 3 not only has ranking points to defend, but he has a robbed opportunity to make up for – and another awaiting, if he can just upend Nadal for the second time this season. Five sets will make it harder, but it is far from an impossible occurrence.
3. Grigor Dimitrov means business – as he continues a quiet win-streak
Since teaming up with Daniel Vallverdu last Summer, former prodigy Dimitrov – who had been enduring a year or so in a direction-lacking wilderness – has reproduced the form that had him labelled a future world no. 1. He has seen the heights of a Grand Slam semifinal and a triumph over then-world no. 1 Novak Djokovic, but the best news for the Bulgarian is that he’s currently handling the lower-ranked guys with efficiency. This became all the more important after Djokovic was dumped out of his quarter, and Dimitrov enters the last eight off a four-set win over the Serb’s victor: Denis Istomin. Over four rounds, he has dropped two sets.
Goffin may be the higher ranked in the pair’s upcoming duel at world no. 11, but his forthcoming opponent is more lethal when on his game. Dimitrov also won their only previous meeting: 0-6 6-3 6-4 6-1 at the 2014 US Open. While a win for the Belgian would not be a major shock, he’s hardly the favourite going into this one. Tournament champion in Brisbane, Dimitrov joins Roger Federer as the only two men in action yet to lose this season. On Wednesday, he looks to extend his unbeaten run to ten matches – a streak that already includes three top ten triumphs.
4. A David Goffin semifinal appearance would make sense
He may not be the most likely suspect to make an Australian Open semifinal. Okay, nobody would have predicted it. Nevertheless, the 26-year-old – hidden behind the likes of Raonic, Dimitrov and Nishikori – has been making steady progress. Last season, he made his first ever Masters 1000 semifinal in Indian Wells – and immediately followed it up with a replica result in Miami. A fourth round showing in Oz last season proves he has the game to go deep on these hard-courts. At a career-high ranking, the no. 11 seed should not be ruled out of contention.
5. Nadal holds a healthy head-to-head advantage over Raonic
He may have lost in three sets after leading his forthcoming opponent by a set in Brisbane, but Nadal’s only two losses to the Canadian have come after his dip in form – beginning in 2015. It is true that the 26-year-old has improved his skills since then, but it remains a fact that Nadal had won eight straight sets against him – beginning in Japan in 2010 and ending in Canada in 2013 – before a three set triumph in the 2014 Miami Masters quarter-finals.
What I am not saying is that this forecasts a trip to the semifinals for Rafael Nadal. Raonic could well prove a tougher test than both Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils. Still, it is something to keep in mind.
Thanks for reading! Let me know your semifinal predictions in the comments section!