By Ros Satar, in Melbourne

  • Milos Raonic [16] def. Alexander Zverev [4] 6-1 6-1 7-6(5)
  • Serena Williams [16] def. Simona Halep [1] 6-1 4-6 6-4
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – No. 16 seeds Milos Raonic and Serena Williams rolled into the quarter-finals as they dispatched Alexander Zverev and Simona Halep.

 

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Milos Raonic [16] def. Alexander Zverev [4] 6-1 6-1 7-6(5)

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With a lot having been made of Alexander Zverev’s partnering with Ivan Lendl, coupled with his finish at the end of the year winning the ATP Finals, you would be forgiven for thinking that Milos Raonic had sunk deep into the Lost Generation.

The rangy Canadian has been so beset with injury issues in his young career it is hard to forget he has actually been a Slam finalist, and on his current form, it looks as though he could be again.

The first two sets were extremely out of character with the form that Zverev had shown earlier in the tournament. His height and languid power often disguises an effective serve but on Monday it was completely ineffectual.

What impressed the most though was Raonic’s net game. Perhaps frustratingly earlier on in his career, he looked like he had developed a decent all court game, but he started to focus more on building his game around his serve (no bad thing) but ignoring that fact he could be so much more versatile, even as a big unit.

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He proved that today, making Zverev look ordinary (except maybe when it came to racquet smashes). Zverev did manage to show a little more life in the third set but it was just a little too late.

After the match, Zverev said: “I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible. I mean, it’s just tough to name on one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that.”

For Raonic, it probably seems a long way from the heady days of 2016, where he made the Wimbledon final, losing to Andy Murray. But it is a welcome one having come so close to beating Murray earlier that year, leading 2-1 before his body let him down.

He said: “I think I’m a better player than I was back then. I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years from ’14 to ’15 before that, and it was sort of — you don’t have to think about things as much. Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively.

“Now you always have to think about things a bit more because you’re always trying to search for that rhythm, that sort of what should you do, whereas in those situations I don’t think I was really asking myself. I was trusting a lot more.

“I think each injury has given me sort of the feeling I don’t know what’s next around the corner. Am I going to be hurt again or not? But it’s given me more of an appreciation of when I have been healthy.”

He will face Lucas Pouille in the quarter-final.

 

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Serena Williams [16] def. Simona Halep [1] 6-1 4-6 6-4

With the impressive head to head record that Serena Williams had over Simona Halep coming in to the match, we could be forgiven for thinking that the perhaps undercooked Romanian would be bowled over, especially after the first set.

As Halep would describe it, Williams hit her like a train, head on. After losing her first service game, Williams reeled off six games in a row to take the first set. It was enough to give Halep a kick up the proverbial as she quickly hit back from going a break down in the second set, and kept it competitive, with a final break to level the match.

Simona Halep in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2019, Melbourne

Simona Halep of Romania in action during her fourth-round match at the 2019 Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament

In a game of high quality, with chances for a lead for Halep going agonisingly begging, Williams hit back straight away to get the decisive break closing in on the finish with ruthless precision.

Halep said: I will start with a joke (smiling). I felt like I had been hit by the train in the first set. (Laughter.) Everything was too fast. I didn’t get scared about the first set, because I knew I have a better level, and I can play better if I stay there and I really start moving better and hitting the ball stronger.

 

“So after the first set, I got fire inside myself, and I said that now I start the match. So it was much better. Game by game, I felt that my level is growing, and I had more confidence to go through it.”

As the numbers who could take the World No. 1 from Halep dwindling day by day, she admitted she was not too worried, and in fact was more interested in the final outcome of the tournament.

“There is another chance after this tournament to go back to No. 1 if I lose it. So the main goal is just to play as good as I can every match, to win every match I play, so the ranking doesn’t really matter. And this stage for me I have to work hard to get the level back, to feel ready 100% every match. So, I will work for that.

“End of the year is more important, the ranking, so I will not stress myself about this. I just go home, I will rest, and I will watch tennis. I am also curious who is going to win.”

Williams played down the impact of a dominant head to head when she talked to reporters in her post-match press conference:

“That’s why she’s No. 1. She literally lifted her game to a new level. I didn’t. I kind of stayed at the same level, and I should have looked at my game, as well.

“But it’s a part of this journey on my way back. You know, like I was saying, it’s 10 months, so I can’t be too upset at myself. I felt like I did have an opportunity to win that in straight sets, but then I’m playing the No. 1 player in the world.

“So, I’m still learning, which is, at my age and my point in my career, I think admirable and exciting that I still have things I can learn from.”

Williams will play Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.

 

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