With the wind swirling and temperatures rising, getting the job done was undoubtedly the priority as players took to the court for the completion of first round matches at Melbourne Park today - and Milos Raonic, the Australian Open’s 11th seed, mostly did that as he recorded a 7-6(2) 6-1 4-6 6-2 victory over world No. 77 Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
If initially not quite the standard that many have come to expect of the big-serving Raonic, who last year became the first Canadian player in history to achieve a top-10 singles ranking, it was enough to remind many observers why the 23-year-old is so often placed on “player-to-watch” lists.
The two men have never played on the tour and both the unfamiliarity and the testing conditions were undoubtedly a factor in a tricky first set, in which they each claimed two service breaks and for the most part, appeared evenly matched. It was only in the tiebreak that Raonic asserted his authority over an opponent ranked 69 places lower, the Canadian’s trademark big serve and some effective net play helping him secure it 7-2 after 46 minutes on court.
Considering the conditions, there was a more pleasing efficiency in the second set, Raonic breaking the Spaniard early to take a 2-0 lead and hardly looking back as he took that set 6-2 in 33 minutes.
To his credit though, the Spaniard hung in, even when circumstances transpired against him. Down two break points in the third game of that second set, play was briefly suspended while a ballkid was treated for heat exhaustion. When they returned to the court, Gimeno-Travers maintained his concentration to hold serve.
That tenacity was also evident in the third set, which went with serve for eight games. There was a turning point of sorts when Gimeno-Travers received a code violation warning for coaching and the ensuing frustration seemed to help – in the ninth game, he hit a pair of crisp winners and assisted by some unforced errors from a similarly-bothered Raonic, secured a service break. He held serve in the next game to take the set 6-4, also in 33 minutes.
It was a short-lived reprieve, with Raonic clearly the more capable man in a 32-minute final set. While there were frustrating errors, they were forgivable in the heat and Gimeno-Travers had little left to counter the Canadian’s huge serve.
The statistics ultimately told the story of the two hour 23 minute encounter: while the unforced error count was relatively even (33 to Raonic, 29 to Gimeno-Travers), the Canadian hit 25 aces to the Spaniard’s five and his 48 winners were 26 more than his opponent managed.
The fastest of those aces was 226kph and Raonic will be hoping to record similarly-big numbers when he meets another big-server, Victor Hanescu of Romania, in the second round.