Andy Murray to face Novak Djokovic in Australian Open final once again after five-set win over Milos Raonic

  • Andy Murray defeats Milos Raonic in five sets to set up Australian Open final clash vs Novak Djokovic
  • ‘Heartbroken’ Raonic hampered by injury towards closing stages of the match

Andy Murray outlasted an unlucky Milos Raonic in five sets on Friday to reach his fifth Australian Open final.

Murray, who has finished runner-up in Melbourne four times already, will face Novak Djokovic in the 2016 Australian Open final at 7.30pm local/8.30am GMT on Sunday.

Djokovic played his semifinal on Thursday, giving him an extra day to prepare for the final — something that becomes even more crucial if his opponent plays a long match on Friday, as Murray did, winning 4–6, 7–5, 6–7(4), 6–4, 6–2 in just over three hours on Rod Laver Arena.

Raonic, the first Canadian man to reach an Australian Open semifinal, was bidding to reach a first Grand Slam final and might have done just that were it not for an adductor injury that visibly hampered him in the fourth and fifth sets.

‘Probably the most heartbroken I’ve felt on court but that is what it is,’ a devastated Raonic said afterwards about the injury.

Traditionally known for his booming serve, Raonic came into this match bursting with confidence after winning the Brisbane International title in the run-up (defeating Roger Federer in the final) and beating 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the round of 16, two things he would not have achieved without a much-improved ground game. And the Canadian made his intentions clear at the very beginning of the match, returning aggressively to break Murray as he served to open (with the help of a double fault from the second seed) and holding from 15–40 to move ahead 2–0.

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Raonic didn’t show a flicker of vulnerability on serve as he closed out the first set 6–4 and although Murray avoided going a break down early in the second, by the time Raonic held for 3–3 the British player was 0–5 on break points despite a dip in Raonic’s level. Murray kept coming up with solid holds to put the pressure back on Raonic’s serve, but it wasn’t until the most crucial stage of the set — with Raonic serving at 5–6 — that Murray broke through, producing a classic piece of bamboozling Murray magic involving a drop shot, lob and passing-shot winner to earn set point before converting when he crunched a vintage return right through the middle of Raonic’s attempted serve-and-volley.

The third set went with serve until the closing stages. Murray dug out of a 0–30 hole at 4–4 to hold with a reflex volley but Raonic fired right back with a crisp hold for 5–5 before opening up a 0–30 lead on Murray’s serve again. Two poor returns from Raonic and an audacious drop-shot winner from the baseline for Murray got the second seed to game point, but in a pivotal miss, Murray netted a backhand down the line to drop back to deuce and had to save another break point before eking out the hold.

It was all to no avail, however, as Raonic swiftly held to take the third set to a tie break and one which, after an initial exchange of points against the serve, the Canadian thoroughly dominated, producing a sweet return for 3–1 and never letting that advantage slip. An inside-in smash winner that landed plum on the line for 5–2 was a particular highlight and the 13th seed closed out the tie break with an ace to put himself just one set away from his first Grand Slam final.

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It was at that moment, however, that it all began to slip away. Actually, the process may have begun earlier — Raonic said afterwards that he felt something on his leg during the third set — but the first sign of it to outside observers came when he took an off-court medical timeout early in the fourth set. Struggling to push off properly on his backhand side, Raonic was broken to love at 3–3 in the fourth set and although Murray took his time consolidating the break — and took his time serving out the set — his opponent was clearly compromised by his injury.

It rather took the air out of the fifth set, which Murray thoroughly dominated with a frustrated Raonic demolishing his racquet after going 0–2 down.

‘I guess that was sort of just the whole frustration of everything sort of getting out,’ the usually even-tempered Canadian said. ‘I don’t think that’s like myself to do, but sometimes it’s a little bit too much to keep in.’

Raonic saved triple-break points and held for 1–4, but it was all over bar the shouting and Murray closed out the match a handful of games later.

The 13th seed searched for the positives after the match, although he was clearly devastated to lose. ‘I’m in a much better state where I was 18 months ago when I was in my first semifinal of a Grand Slam,’ Raonic said.

‘So I think I was giving myself chances and I was fighting hard. I was doing things right. It was just sort of how the story played out after.’

Raonic’s task will be to build on the bright start he made to 2016, try to stay healthy and bring this kind of form to the big events for the rest of the season, where he could be a serious factor.

But it’s Murray who joins his brother Jamie in making the second weekend of the Australian Open — Jamie, with partner Bruno Soares, has reached the final of the men’s doubles, making Andy and Jamie the first brothers to reach Grand Slam singles and doubles finals in the Open Era — and will face Djokovic on Sunday.

It’s the sixth time Murray and Djokovic will meet in a Grand Slam final, having played three times at the Australian Open in the past with Djokovic winning all three, in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Based on the world no. 1’s recent dominance of men’s tennis in general and Murray specifically, as well as the tennis he played in defeating Federer in the semifinals, it’s very difficult to imagine this 2016 meeting ending any other way.

Djokovic and Murray are scheduled on court on Sunday at 7.30pm local/8.30am GMT


Originally published at www.live-tennis.com on January 29, 2016.

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