Melbourne | Pouille downs Raonic; Nishikori retires v Djokovic
The last two quarter-finals have were played to complete the men’s semi-final line up at this year’s Australian Open and it includes one surprise name as well as the world number one.
I didn’t win a match in Melbourne before coming here this year. Now I’m in the semi-finals. So just very, very happy Lucas Pouille
The surprise came in the shape of Frenchman Lucas Pouille who handled the Milos Raonic serve with ease to reach the last four for the first time at grand slam level.
He dispatched the higher seeded big Canadian 7-6 (4) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-4 in three hours and two minutes to become the seventh player from France to reach the semis in Melbourne during the Open Era.
He will now attempt to emulate Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who was the last Frenchman to make the final itself in 2008 but he will have to get past Novak Djokovic who remains the title favourite having come through his own quarter-final without extending himself following Kei Nishikori, his opponent, retirement in the fifth game of the second set.
On this occasion Pouille produced his best performance to shock his better known opponent, playing more winners while keeping his unforced errors down while taming the Raonic booming serve.
And he was quick to acknowledge the influence of his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, in guiding him through to his maiden grand slam.
Losing just 27 points on serve, Pouille had to save only one break point in the entire match while he kept the pressure on 16th seed.
Despite 25 aces, Milos was nowhere near the same level of play as in his previous matches losing the advantage from the baseline and facing 14 break points to lose his serve three times.
But it was Raonic who set the initial pace, claiming the first three games by winning 12 of the first 13 points to storm into a 3-0 lead. He then held on to his advantage until the ninth game when serving for the set at 5-3 when, surprisingly, he lost it to 15 with an extremely poor forehand.
With the momentum swinging Pouille’s way he shut out Raonic in the tiebreak 7-4 with a winning cross court forehand.
Leading two sets to love, Raonic kept his hopes alive by claiming the third on a tie-break but that was never realised with Pouille losing just four points on his serve in the fourth set.
Pouille arrived in the quarterfinal trailing 0-3 in his previous encounters with Raonic — including a first-round meeting in Melbourne back in 2016 — but by targeting the big-serving Canadian’s second serve he won 35 of the 62 he faced.
As mentioned earlier, he has been working over the past few months with Mauresmo who had previously worked as Andy Murray’s coach.
“She’s the right state of mind. She knows everything about tennis. It’s not about being a woman or a man. It doesn’t matter,” Pouille said in an on-court interview when asked about his choice of a female coach. “You just have to know what you’re doing — and she does.
“I didn’t win a match in Melbourne before coming here this year”, Pouille admitted. “Now I’m in the semi-finals. So just very, very happy.”
Novak Djokovic then followed him on court for the final quarter-final where he faced Kei Nishikori for a place in the last four.
Nishikori though was exhausted having played for nearly 14 hours to reach this stage, his last match taking up five of those hours.
He bravely attempted to make a competitive contribution but it was obvious from the start that he could hardly move and retired with the scoreline standing at 6-1 4-1 in favour of his opponent.
He grimaced as a trainer worked on his right thigh and shortly after receiving treatment, pulled out of the match.
Djokovic was grateful for the quick match, having complained of a sore back and a “couple of issues” after battling through a taxing four-set clash with Russian Daniil Medvedev in the previous round.
“As they say this is exactly what the doctor ordered,” he told Jim Courier in their on-court interview. “I’ve had plenty of matches so far this year …. And I’ll do everything to get ready for that (next) one.”