Coaches lift pressure from Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori for Aus Open quarters

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Crunch time: Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori both have daunting opposition in their Australian Open quarter-final encounters.

Ivan Ljubicic and Michael Chang are doing their best to unload any stress from their players, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, as they prepare to face some daunting opposition in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

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Ljubicic, a retired ex-world No3 who has been coaching Raonic for the past 18 months, is preparing the Canadian for a mammoth encounter with four-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.

Raonic, who is playing a third quarter-final in his last four grand slams, has taken just one set out of the 11 he has played against Djokovic in four meetings.

The Canadian No8 seed managed just five games in his only previous hard court clash with Djokovic, in Paris last October, and is aware of the world No1’s threat at Melbourne Park – a place where he has enjoyed his most success.

But Ljubicic believes the pressure will be on Djokovic not Raonic in today’s encounter.

“He’s definitely approaching it like there’s no pressure. It’s something that he can freely go for it, and try to win,” Ljubicic told Sport360 on Tuesday. 

“Novak will not give it to him, we know that. So he has to just swing freely, go for his shots, play his game. Not over-hit, not overplay, just play his normal game. He knows he was close in the past and that he will have a chance.”

Raonic’s closest match with Djokovic came on the clay of the Rome Masters last season, where the 24-year-old stretched Djokovic to three sets. But Ljubicic knows that “Novak is a different player in Australia”.

Still the 35-year-old Croat believes Raonic is in excellent shape and is primed for a great battle, thanks to a strong pre-season preparation.

“He’s feeling excellent,” Ljubicic says of Raonic, who looks fitter than before having lost a few pounds over the off season.

“Absolutely no issues. Normally when you get to the quarter-finals you have some kind of little pains, little issues but he’s totally 100 per cent ready. 

“We worked on fitness really hard, he didn’t play IPTL also for that reason to get ready for this season really well. He lost a few kilos but again that wasn’t really the only goal of the off season, the goal was to get more fit by practicing harder, making sure what to eat and the result is that he lost a few pounds.”

Meanwhile, 1989 Roland Garros champion, Chang, believes fifth-seed Nishikori will have less pressure on him when he takes on defending champion Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday.

The pair had an epic five-set battle in the US Open quarter-finals last September, which Nishikori won en route to a runner-up showing.

“I really think that Kei doesn’t have anything to lose coming into tomorrow’s match,” said Chang. “Stan is obviously the higher seed and defending champion so there's certainly a lot more pressure on him. I think it’ll be a great match, a lot of long, tough rallies and hopefully Kei comes out and plays some great tennis.”

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Australian Open round-up: Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych reach semi-finals

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Andy Murray celebrates his victory over Nick Kyrgios in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

Three-time runner-up Andy Murray edged closer to a fourth Australian Open decider Tuesday, but has surprise semi-finalist Tomas Berdych blocking his way.

The British sixth seed proved too experienced and disciplined for mercurial Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios, winning their night quarter-final in straight sets.

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Czech seventh seed Berdych provided the day's stunning result by ending a demoralising run of outs to dump a struggling Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the earlier last eight clash.

Berdych finally mastered the Spanish 14-time Grand Slam champion 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (7/5) in 2hr 13min.

Murray downed Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 in 2hr 5min and will face seventh seed Czech Tomas Berdych for a place in the final.

The Scot was too composed and steady for the exciting 19-year-old and took his record over Australian players to 11-0 before a partisan home crowd.

In contrast to his lacklustre performance, the experienced Sharapova dominated young Canadian pretender Bouchard to set up an all-Russian semi-final with dark horse Ekaterina Makarova.

The world number two, who could claim the top ranking from arch-rival Serena Williams if she wins the title, showed her intent by breaking the seventh seed in the first game of the match and never looked back.

Billed as a Glam Slam showdown between two of the game's most marketable women, an intense Sharapova was all business in the crushing 6-3, 6-2 win on a cool, overcast Melbourne day.

She now faces Makarova, who raced through her match against third seed Simona Halep, thrashing the more-fancied Romanian 6-4, 6-0.

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#360view: Nick Kyrgios is a born entertainer on the big stage

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Showman: Nick Kyrgios thanks the crowd after defeat Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open.

He’s on the front of every Australian newspaper, there’s a “Countdown to Kyrgios” clock on national television, and he’s taking on one of the best players in today’s game, Andy Murray, on Rod Laver Arena for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals.

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The stage can’t get any bigger for 19-year-old Aussie Nick Kyrgios. And funnily enough, it’s just the way he likes it.

Both Kyrgios and his fellow teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis started the fortnight as the toast of Melbourne but of the pair of ‘Special Ks’, it is Kyrgios who has so far proven to be a bit more special.

While Kokkinakis appears to have the more complete game, it is Kyrgios’ confidence that has risen the most eyebrows and has lifted the Canberra-native to such heights so early in his career.

For someone who has already reached two grand slam quarter-finals, it’s staggering that Kyrgios has registered just one match victory on the regular ATP tour – compared to 12 at the majors.

While a player like Stan Wawrinka needed 23 slams before making his first quarter-final, Kyrgios now has two in his first seven.

His path to glory has skipped numerous steps, it’s like a couple getting married before going on their first date. His good friend, 
ex-world No1 Victoria Azarenka finds the confidence he exudes at his age “refreshing” while Murray admits he was nowhere near as assured when he was 19.

“I didn’t feel like I was going to win these events when I was that age, but I read that he felt like he could win the Australian Open this year,” said the world No6.

But where does it come from, and how much of it stems from his love of showmanship?

Can Kyrgios win big matches if it’s not in front of thousands of fans he can show off in front of?

And can he continue to sustain his energy levels when he keeps on cursing on court, arguing with umpires, smashing racquets and talking to the crowd?

Halfway through his win over Seppi, Kyrgios looked up to three spectators leaving Hisense Arena and said: “Hey, where are you going?”

Why would they consider being anywhere other than on the Kyrgios bandwagon?

Just months into his explosion on the circuit, Kyrgios is already a polarising figure. Many are fascinated by his flair, torpedo of a serve and monster forehand while others are critical of his antics. People are forgetting that he is just 19, possibly because the last time a 19-year-old set the tour on fire was 10 years ago and his name was Rafael Nadal. The least appropriate thing Nadal ever did is picking his underwear before he serves.

Nick Kyrgios has proved that he has the ability to be one of the top player's on the tour.

It’s not helping that the other 19-year-old having a breakthrough tournament here in Melbourne is the calm, mature and lovable Madison Keys. Again, an unfair comparison to her keeps appearing on social media and other platforms.

Kyrgios is ultimately a unique character, breaking through in a unique way. He will learn from his own mistakes – which he’ll surely make many – and should eventually find the fine line between showtime and game time.

For now, we can relish the emergence of fresh young talent on the men’s tour and hope it translates into sustainable success.

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