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With favourites out, Raonic has opening for slam breakthrough

With favourites out, Raonic has opening for slam breakthrough

MELBOURNE, Australia — Not every tennis player quotes from Goethe on Twitter, keeps a journal and visits art exhibitions during tournaments.

Milos Raonic, though, has taken a slightly different path in life. He grew up playing tennis in snowy Canada, not sunny Florida. And his parents, immigrants from Montenegro, knew nothing about tennis. On long drives to tournaments, his father would quiz him with math problems, not break down his forehand.

The Canadian has many passions in life, but make no mistake, he's still very focused on his career goal — winning a Grand Slam.

And with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic now out of the draw at the Australian Open, the third-ranked Raonic is suddenly the highest seed remaining.

Is this his best opportunity to finally break through and win a major trophy?

"It sort of crosses your mind," he said after his 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth round on Monday.

"But it's very insignificant because there's a lot for me to even get past. ... I have some very difficult tasks ahead of me," said Raonic, who reached the Wimbledon final and the semifinals at Melbourne Park last year. "I'm pretty intent on staying in that moment, in that sort of challenge one at a time."

Indeed, Raonic has a significant obstacle in front of him next, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal, who defeated Gael Monfils in the fourth round.

After ending his season early last year because of a wrist injury, a rejuvenated Nadal has been playing inspired tennis in Melbourne. He also has a 6-2 record against Raonic, though the Canadian won their most recent match at the season-opening Brisbane International event.

The other concern for Raonic has been his health — he came down with a cold earlier in the tournament and was bed-ridden for a day. His timing seemed slightly off against Bautista Agut when he racked up 55 unforced errors and even uncharacteristically hurled his racket to the court midway through the third set.

But Raonic said he's on the mend and playing with new focus under his recently hired coach, Richard Krajicek.

Krajicek's addition at the start of the season was just the latest tweak by Raonic aimed at perfecting his game. In the past few years, Raonic has been coached by Riccardo Piatti and former pros Ivan Ljubicic and Carlos Moya, and during Wimbledon, he hired John McEnroe as an adviser on a temporary basis.

Then, at the start of this year, he parted ways with Moya (who has since joined Nadal's team) and brought on Krajicek. The reason: to help him solve the riddle of the only two players ahead of him in the rankings — Murray and Djokovic. He has a combined 3-17 record against the two.

"I don't think I'm ever going to be the best guy from the baseline by any means, especially not against them," he said before the Australian Open. "If I'm going to take it to them, it's by coming forward. So I wanted to improve in that aspect."

Raonic has been effective at net thus far in Melbourne; he tried serve-and-volleying against Gilles Simon in the third round, winning 20 of 32 approaches.

Now, he'll see if he can keep moving forward against Nadal and take another step toward the trophy.

"(It's) coming together now," he said, "putting in a great finish to the season last year and playing what I feel is some of my best tennis right now."

Justin Bergman, The Associated Press

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