Seven months ago at Wimbledon, Milos Raonic lost a chance to play on a grand stage against a great player in the third round of a major event when he slipped on the grass very early in his second-round match while already leading by a service break.
A win on that occasion against Gilles Muller would have guaranteed a meeting with Rafael Nadal in the third round. Instead, he underwent serious hip surgery in July and then more than two months of hard rehab before returning to the ATP tour in October.
The 2012 Australian Open is the 21-year-old Canadian’s first Grand Slam since Wimbledon and the fates have conspired to have him play national hero Lleyton Hewitt in a third-round, Saturday-night showdown in Rod Laver Arena.
Raonic – Hewitt is a classic big server versus great returner confrontation.
Until the 11th service game of his second-round match versus Philipp Petzschner, Raonic had held serve 70 times in a row in his six matches so far in 2012.
Hewitt has the experience of facing many of the greatest servers – from Sampras to to Federer to Karlovic – in his day. It will fascinating to see how he deals with the 6-foot-5 Raonic’s variety – a greasy slice, a lively kicker and flat blasts that are regularly in the 220-kilometre plus range.
It’s Raonic’s first match on a Grand Slam centre court but the Canadian is very precocious for his 21 years and should be up to the challenge.
Looming for the winner in the round-of-16 is the seemingly untouchable top-seed Novak Djokovic. He will face few problems with Nicolas Mahut today but might be concerned about being untested after scores of 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 and 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 in his first two matches.
Of the top seeds, Andy Murray (4) appears to have a perfect game to thwart French serve-and-volleyer Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6) is a prohibitive favourite against Frederico Gil of Portugal who has exactly one match win in 13 Grand Slam main-draw appearances.
Decidedly more in the toss-up category are Janko Tipsarevic – Richard Gasquet and Kei Nishikori – Julien Benneteau.
It’s hard to believe Greta Arn of Hungry has been a pro since 1997 but has earned less than $1 million (US) – $812,108 to be precise. But the 32-year-old showed what a gritty competitor she is in outlasting Dominika Cibulkova 10-8 in the third set on Thursday. Serena Williams, 30 and a pro since 1995 with nearly $35 million in official prize money, should be wary of someone from her generation whom she has never played.
Maria Sharapova and her opponent, Angelique Kerber, are both 24 but on different ranking curves. The world No. 4 Russian was last No. 1 more than five years ago while the left-handed German reached a career best No. 29 in late 2011.
Kerber has the experience of a US Open semi-final last year and could trouble Sharapova, who has won her first twomatches by identical 6-1, 6-0 scores.
Petra Kvitova beat Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-2 in the Fed Cup final in November and should handle the Russian and her bright red dress.
Sorana Cirstea, after upsetting Samantha Stosur in the first round, must be wary of tenacious Sara Errani and SabineLisicki versus Svetlana Kuznetsova will be all about who hits bigger, and better.
Ana Ivanovic, six-foot-one, will have to impose her power game on 5-foot-5 Vania King if she is to be well prepared for a potential reality-check encounter with Kvitova in the round-of-16.