WARNING: Another young gun has you in his sights. That might be the caution for Roger Federer as he approaches Monday night’s match in Rod Laver Arena against monster-serving Milos Raonic.
After an invigorating joust Saturday with 20-year-old Bernard Tomic, an Australian of Balkan descent (Croatia), now it’s a 22-year-old Canadian of Balkan descent (Montenegro). Raonic attempts to be the first player born in the 1990s to beat Federer, and also to end his 34-consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals streak.
Raonic is mates with Tomic. “He’s a good friend,” the 13th seeded Canadian said after crushing Philipp Kohlschreiber on Saturday. “I spoke with him before the (Federer) match. I spoke with him last (Friday) night. He’s a good kid.”
What Federer confronts in Raonic is a completely different kind of tennis.
“I wouldn’t call it a match,” Kohlschreiber said after losing to Raonic, “just serve and return. I couldn’t read his serve. It’s not the speed, it’s the variation.”
The 6-foot-5 Raonic punctuated the victory on match point with ace No. 23, his fastest serve of the day – 228 km/hr or 141 mph.
Federer knows about Raonic’s big weapon, having faced him three times last year – on hard courts, clay and grass. Each time Raonic took the first set before Federer rallied to win – 6-4 in the third in Indian Wells and 7-6 in the third in Madrid and Halle.
“I’ve had some tough matches with him,” Federer said. “All went the distance. Some I should have lost, maybe one or two.”
This is a longer distance – best-of-five sets – but the Canadian could be tricky for him on the rebound after the much-hyped Tomic showdown.
In the afternoon on Rod Laver, it’s all-French – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Richard Gasquet. In 2008, Tsonga beat Gasquet 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 6-3 in the same round at Melbourne Park on his way to the final. That loss had an enduring effect on Gasquet. “I was in the top 10 and he was about 40,” Gasquet said with eerily vivid recall about how Tsonga eventually replaced him as French No. 1. “That match really turned things around and he was stronger. He got to No. 5 in the world.”
On court these days, Gasquet also has something he doesn’t forget – to ask for the same ball he won the previous point with. “I get attached to little things,” he said.
Does he warn ballkids before the match? “No,” he smiled, “they figure it out pretty quickly.”
In other fourth-rounders, Gilles Simon brings his withered body – four hours and 43 minutes versus Gael Monfils – to court against Andy Murray, and the Jeremy Chardy –Andreas Seppi match yields an unlikely quarterfinalist.
The women’s round-of-16 sees Serena Williams (5-0) and Victoria Azarenka (3-0) taking unblemished records into matches with stylish Russians Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina respectively. In the match-up between former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the edge goes to Rory McIlroy’s girlfriend. Finally, Sloane Stephens, 19, and Bojana Jovanovski, 21, face off in the first meeting of two free-swinging, coltish young females.
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Wozniacki def. Kuznetsova in three: The Dane has driven the Russian crazy before with her unswerving retrieving, and will do so again.
Stephens def. Jovanovski in three: “This is what I have to do to be great,” Stephens says about her way of life. She takes a tiny step toward that goal against the Serb.
Seppi def. Chardy in four: Arguably the most self-effacing top-25 player, Seppi reaches a Grand Slam quarterfinal, terra incognito for both contestants.
Tsonga def. Gasquet in four: Richard is not lion-hearted enough. Jo rolls to a win in this “Franco Francais” duel.
Federer def. Raonic in four: Many guys never figure out the big Canadian’s serve. But, over best-of-five sets, Roger has time to get a read on it.