Milos Raonic vs Ernest Gulbis will be meeting for the fourth time in their career, the Head to Head stands at 3-0 for Raonic.
Sparks will fly when the Canadian number one takes on tennis’ petulant playboy in the Rogers Cup later today.
Milos Raonic (Bio) has chosen the right time to make just his third quarter-final of the year. In an atmosphere more akin to a Davis Cup tie, the 11th seed took out Juan Martin Del Potro on Thursday evening for the second best win of his career (he beat Andy Murray in Tokyo last October). Despite suffering “numbness” in his right arm and requiring several bouts of treatment at the changes of ends, the 22-year-old fired down 12 aces and played composed tennis at the crucial moments to emerge a 7-5, 6-4 winner.
While the victory has undoubtedly elevated Raonic in the hearts and minds of his fervent supporters, it will also be remembered for a controversial moment towards the end of the second set. At 4-3, 40-all, Raonic charged forward to swat away a short ball from Del Potro. Replays showed that his foot touched the net, which should have resulted in the point going to the Argentine. But umpire Mohammed Lehyani didn’t see the incident, and a rather sheepish-looking Raonic kept schtum. He seemed less than contrite in his post-match press conference, leading some fans to question his sportsmanship.
One man who would have protested more vocally than Del Potro is Ernests Gulbis (Bio), Raonic’s next opponent. The Latvian produced one of his best performances of the year to defeat second seed Andy Murray 6-4, 6-3. While the Scot was curiously flat during the last 16 match, Gulbis deserves credit for staying calm and collected, especially when a Murray comeback looked possible.
“I just tired not to show any weakness,” said the world number 38. “I was 3-1 up and he played an unbelievable point to break me. If I go crazy, as I like to do, then it would be a tough second set.”
Having beaten Murray for the first time in six meetings, Gulbis will be optimistic about getting his first ever win over Raonic. The Canadian has won all three of their previous meetings without dropping a set, but their last hard court encounter came in early 2012, prior to Gulbis’ “recommitment” to top-level tennis. The 24-year-old feels that he is “better, fitter, faster and more confident” than ever, so can he defy the odds to reach his second semi-final of the year?
Much will depend on how the volatile Gulbis copes with the conditions. He scowled and sulked his way through his second round match in Montreal, irritated by the swirling winds that disrupted his timing. Against Raonic, he will not only be playing the elements but also a stadium giving their full and vocal support to their man. To shut out the crowd, Gulbis will have to summon the concentration and positive energy that saw him through against Murray. Ideally, he would like to secure an early lead to subdue the partisan fans and settle his own nerves.
Raonic’s arm injury is also a factor. If he is unable to serve at full capacity, his biggest weapon will be neutralised, putting him on the back foot right from the beginning of rallies. Gulbis has the more imaginative game and is tactically astute, so Raonic will be aiming to get the big strike in first.
The ingredients for this match – a home player, a volatile “villain”, injury and lingering controversy – could make it one of the most dramatic of the week. The time seems ripe for Raonic, one of the most promising youngsters on tour, to make another breakthrough. Yet Gulbis has his eye on the prize too, and he won’t care if he has to break Canadian hearts in order to get it.