Milos Raonic advances to Australian Open semifinals
Milos Raonic plays a backhand return to Gael Monfils during their quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP / Aaron Favila)
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2016 6:07AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:27PM EST
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Canada's Milos Raonic has made significant changes to his game since the last time he played Andy Murray. It should add an interesting wrinkle to his Australian Open semifinal against the second-seeded Scot.
Raonic reached the final four in Melbourne for the first time Wednesday with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Gael Monfils of France. The 25-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., who made his only other Grand Slam semifinal appearance at Wimbledon in 2014, will take a nine-game winning streak into Friday's matchup with Murray, who beat Spain's David Ferrer 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3.
The Canadian already has one of the most impressive power games on the men's tour. He has made improvements to his volley game of late and it paid off with a title victory at the recent Brisbane International.
Murray, meanwhile, has one of the best return games in the sport and has risen to No. 2 in the world rankings, 12 positions higher than Raonic. They are 4-4 in career head-to-head matches, with Murray winning their last two meetings -- in 2015 at Madrid and late 2014 in London.
"As much as I look back on it, even before I went on court today I was paying attention to what he was doing," Raonic said. "Because far from where we were 14 months ago, we're both very different and I think improved players from then.
"So I have certain aspects that I would like to manipulate and use my game in, and I'm sure he's going to try to do a lot of different things too. I think it's going to be a race to who can get in the comfort zone of themselves first."
Raonic is the second Canadian singles player to reach the Australian Open semifinals. The other is Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., who did it in 2014.
He's also just the second Canadian to reach a Grand Slam men's singles semifinal after Robert Powell did it in 1908 at Wimbledon.
Raonic beat Murray on clay in Barcelona in 2012 and they split their hardcourt matches that year at the U.S. Open and in Japan. Raonic also beat Murray on the Indian Wells hardcourt in 2014 and both have a walkover win over the other as well.
"I have a great challenge ahead of me, but I believe I can find a solution," Raonic said. "I'll put in a great effort, I can't wait to make the most of this opportunity."
With the victory over Monfils, Raonic equalled his personal-best winning streak of nine matches from 2012.
"I was creating a bunch of chances for myself," Raonic said.
"I made good use of a few of them -- I then continued to make the most of those little leads."
Raonic, who showed little emotion until the final point, completed the victory in just over two hours. Monfils, who had a 14-10 edge in aces, is now 2-2 lifetime against Raonic, with the other loss coming via walkover.
The Canadian took 35 minutes to win the opening set and he suffered his only break of serve in the second set as Monfils pulled even. Raonic powered back to take the next two sets for the win.
He said he has worked hard to make strides in several areas of his game.
"I think I know better how to use my ground strokes," Raonic said. "But at the same time, because I'm getting to the ball in better position, it's easier. I don't feel like I'm getting hustled around the court that much. I feel like I can find my way back.
"I don't have to go for big shots on the run. I can sort of neutralize a little bit better.
He also has big plans for 2016 with new coach Carlos Moya.
"There are six monumental moments for this year that I really want to put a lot of the attention to: the four Slams, the Olympics, and Toronto is a big one for me.
"It's about really making sure that even those weeks, those tournaments, that I'm improving each day."
Wednesday's match was played with the roof of the Rod Laver Arena closed after rainstorms passed through Melbourne in the late afternoon. That suited Raonic, who grew up playing the game indoors.
"This was ideal for me. I'm used to this and I thought I played great tennis. Playing indoors also gave me some peace of mind."
Top-seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia and No. 3 Roger Federer of Switzerland will play the other semifinal on Thursday. The final is scheduled for Sunday.