Nadal’s tac­tics rat­tle Raonic

For­mer world No 1 serves up a feast as he sti­fles Cana­di­ans’ big­gest as­set

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - REUTERS

STAND­ING in close to face a Mi­los Raonic serve might seem a recipe for self-harm but Rafa Nadal’s dar­ing ploy helped him defuse the Cana­dian’s big­gest weapon and book an Aus­tralian Open semi-fi­nal place yes­ter­day.

The Spa­niard broke the 26-year-old twice but was im­pen­e­tra­ble on his own serve to close out a bril­liant 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 win and reach the last four at a Grand Slam for the first time since his 2014 French Open ti­tle.

Nadal will play 15th seed Grigor Dim­itrov for a place in the fi­nal and a shot at a 15th ma­jor ti­tle.

A dream decider against Roger Fed­erer beck­ons if the Swiss master can de­feat com­pa­triot Stan Wawrinka in the first semi-fi­nal to­day.

“If I am not play­ing ag­gres­sive, then I am dead,” warned Nadal prior to his match against Raonic, who de­feated him in three sets at the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional at the be­gin­ning of the month.

Nadal, who has won the Aus­tralian Open only once back in 2009, hired Raonic’s for­mer coach Car­los Moya who parted ways with the Cana­dian at the end of last sea­son.

The 1998 French Open win­ner Moya was un­doubt­edly in­valu­able in pre­par­ing for Raonic, but Nadal took his own coun­sel un­der the lights at Rod Laver Arena.

He stood in­side the base­line to cut off the Cana­dian’s an­gles, re­ly­ing on his re­ac­tions to counter the serv­ing as­sault.

“Yeah, I re­ceived in­side the court,” ninth seed Nadal said af­ter the vic­tory.

“In Bris­bane I was re­ceiv­ing like six, seven me­tres be­hind the base­line. I watched the match be­fore, and I de­cided to go in.

“Talk­ing with (coach) Toni (Nadal), with Car­los, we knew that we needed to change that.

“Be­fore the match we were talk­ing about try­ing to com­bine re­turn­ing some­times very close to the base­line and some­times back.

“But the real thing is I felt good from in­side, and I felt that I was putting some pres­sure on him.

“So, I de­cided to stay in al­most all the time, no? So, happy for that.” A ner­vous Raonic, watch­ing his serv­ing rockets be­ing fired back at him, ap­peared rat­tled by the tac­tic Nadal used early in the match.

Af­ter sav­ing a break point in the fifth game, he dropped serve in the sev­enth and lost the open­ing set.

The third seed still fired 14 aces in the match but his trump card went miss­ing when it was needed most.

Serv­ing to stay in the match at 5-4, Raonic was bro­ken to love as Nadal tied him in knots with pass­ing shots when the Cana­dian rushed for­ward in des­per­a­tion.

Nadal’s vic­tory means three of the men’s semi-fi­nal­ists in Mel­bourne are in their thir­ties, with 25-year-old Dim­itrov the ex­cep­tion.

Thirty-year-old Nadal, who was pushed all the way in a five-set match against 19-yearold Alex Zverev from Ger­many in the third round last week, dis­agreed that it was get­ting eas­ier for the old guard at the Grand Slams.

“It’s go­ing to be tough to make that hap­pen again,” he said.

“I think now there is re­ally a new very good gen­er­a­tion.

“Prob­a­bly a few years ago things were a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent, but now there’s lots of good young kids.” – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

HIGH FLYER: Rafael Nadal cel­e­brates win­ning his quar­ter-fi­nal match in straight sets against Mi­los Raonic at the Aus­tralian Open yes­ter­day.

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