De Minaur defeats Raonic in straight sets in Brisbane

AP and AFP, BRISBANE, Australia

Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 16

Former champion Milos Raonic yesterday lost in straight sets to 18-year-old Alex De Minaur in a second-round upset at the Brisbane International.

Raonic, who won the Brisbane title in 2016 and reached the final at Wimbledon that year, struggled to find rhythm with his usually booming serve in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to the Australian wild-card entry.

De Minaur pressured Raonic with his relentless service returns, made just one unforced error and only dropped serve once — when serving for the match at 5-2 — en route to the biggest win of his career.

The victory put De Minaur into a quarter-final match against American qualifier Michael Mmoh, who upset eighth-seeded Mischa Zverev 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

Raonic was playing his first match since October last year after taking time out to deal with injuries that also ruled him out of the US Open, with his ranking slipping to No. 24 — 21 spots lower than his career-high finish in 2016.

“Heavily disappointed,” Raonic said. “I could have served better. I could have moved a little better. I could have found my way to the net a little bit better.”

“I sort of played into his comfort zone. I didn’t do enough to pull him out of it or, when I did, it would be only for a few points at a time. I wasn’t consistent enough and that’s sort of what cost me,” he added.

Raonic saved double break points in his first two service games in the second set, but was finally broken in the fifth game when De Minaur challenged a call on a second serve, got it overturned to win the point on a double-fault and won the next two points on the back of some impressive returns.

De Minaur broke again in the seventh game and, after missing the chance to close out in the eighth, the former Wimbledon junior finalist held his composure to close out.

Asked how he unsettled one of the better servers in tennis, De Minaur said he threw out the playbook.

“I was just guessing really, I’m not going to lie,” De Minaur said. “I tried to change my returning position a bit to try to throw him off a bit. He probably didn’t have his best serving day, which helped me a lot. I took advantage of it — really proud.”

Nick Kyrgios was the first into the men’s quarter-finals, overcoming a knee problem to outlast fellow Australian Matthew Ebden 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2.

Third-seeded Kyrgios called for a medical timeout after nine games and had further treatment two games later to have his left knee taped.

His movement appeared to be hampered, but he still had too much for Ebden and set up a quarter-final match against former Brisbane International runner-up Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-2.

In the women’s singles, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina continued her impressive start to the season by demolishing Croatian Ana Konjuh 6-3, 6-1 in the second round.

Svitolina took just 64 minutes to see off Konjuh at the Pat Rafter Arena and book an enticing quarter-final showdown with Britain’s Johanna Konta.

She was joined in the final eight by defending champion and second seed Karolina Pliskova, who took 10 minutes less to demolish American Catherine Bellis 6-1, 6-1.

Svitolina, 23, started the week as world No. 6, but would finish it as No. 4 if she wins the tournament.

She won five tournaments last year and goes into the Australian Open as a serious contender for the year’s first Grand Slam.

She had a tough opening-round win over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, but was relatively untroubled against world No. 44 Konjuh.

“I’m playing well and I’m happy that I’m showing good tennis from the start of the year,” Svitolina said. “I try to always find my good tennis out there and, you know, play well. That’s the most important thing.”

Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, the 2012 champion, moved into the last eight with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.

Once ranked as high as 15th in the world, Kanepi is on the comeback trail after an injury forced her out of the game in June 2016 for just more than a year.

She reached last year’s US Open as a qualifier and had to qualify in Brisbane as well.

However, her powerful serve proved too much for Tsurenko and she is now to face Pliskova in the quarter-finals.

Belarussian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich booked a quarter-final against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet when she beat Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 1-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3.