Former champion Wawrinka edged by Raonic in titanic tussle

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka said yesterday he was happy with his comeback from a major injury, despite being ousted from the Australian Open in the tightest of second-round battles.

The 33-year-old Swiss, unseeded for the first time since his debut in 2006 after recovering from knee surgery, fell to Canada’s Milos Raonic after four sets decided on tiebreaks 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (13/11), 7-6 (7/5).

“That’s hard to describe,” said the 16th seed Raonic. “I feel four hours went by in about 15 minutes. The adrenalin just takes over.”

Wawrinka was a break up in the fourth set but failed to serve out from 5-4 to take it to a fifth.

“I was fortunate to stay alive in the fourth set,” admitted the Canadian, whose best Slam performance was reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final where he lost to Andy Murray.

Canada’s Milos Raonic makes a forehand return to Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia yesterday. – PHOTOS: AP
Stan Wawrinka waves as he leaves Rod Laver Arena after his second round loss to Raonic

“Four tie-breaks, three went my way,” he added. “Could easily have been different.”

Wawrinka won the Australian Open five years ago, beating Rafael Nadal in the final, but his knee operation during 2017 and lengthy battle back to fitness saw his ranking plunge to 263.

He began slowly climbing back last year and is now 59th in the world.

The Swiss showed more than a few glimpses of his old greatness, moving well around the baseline and ripping winners to both wings with his classic single-handed backhand.

“For sure it’s frustrating to lose, especially in a match with four tie-breaks,” said Wawrinka.

“I’m happy if I look the big picture. I’m happy with my level, the way I was moving, the way I’m playing in general. I think he also played really well.

“I want to win more matches. Again, if I take some distance, see a little bit everything I’ve done the last few months to get at that level, I’m quite happy.

“I’m looking forward for the rest of the year.”

The match started under cloudy skies and finished indoors after a mid-match rain delay caused organisers to close the Rod Laver Arena roof.

Wawrinka’s serve in particular was in fine order, almost matching Raonic’s renowned power as he banged down 28 aces to the Canadian’s 39 during four hours and one minute of blistering play.

“I just tried to get my hand on his serve, especially with the roof open,” said Raonic.

“It’s how I like to go about my game, so it’s tough to be on the receiving end of that.

“I do a little better indoors normally. So thank you for raining up there,” he added, looking towards the heavens.

Raonic, whose best previous Australian Open performance was a semi-final in 2016 that he also lost to Murray, will face France’s unseeded Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round.