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Clinical Pouille takes out Raonic to reach first major semi-final: Frenchman to face Djokovic in last four

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 23 Jan 2019
  • Lucas Pouille defeated Milos Raonic 7-6 6-3 4-6 6-4 to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final
  • Pouille will face Novak Djokovic in the last four on Friday
Lucas Pouille. (Photo by DAVID GRAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Lucas Pouille advanced to his first Grand Slam semi-final with a clinical four-set victory over Milos Raonic at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The Frenchman took out Raonic 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-4 in just over three hours to set up a semi-final meeting with Novak Djokovic. 

Pouille reached the quarter finals at Wimbledon and the US Open in his breakout 2016 season, but he failed to back up those results in the majors in the next two years, making the fourth round just once in the next eight Slams. He had also never won a match in five previous visits to the Australian Open, but he has turned that around spectacularly in 2019, beating Mikhail Kukushkin, Maximilian Marterer, Alexei Popyrin, Borna Coric, and now Raonic to book his semi-final ticket.

This run has come as a bit of a surprise, as the Frenchman struggled for most of last season. Pouille had actually started well in 2018, breaking into the top ten in March, but he completely lost his way as the season progressed, and was out of the top-30 by the end of the year. That tumble prompted a major change to his team as he sought a new direction in his bid get back on track. Pouille turned to compatriot, Amelie Mauresmo for the new season, and that partnership has got off to a fantastic start.

“She's a champion. She's a great coach, I was expecting this starting with Amelie,” he said of Mauresmo. “I think she's bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind. The goal is not to reach the final, the semifinal, the goal is to improve my tennis, to put what I work on during the practice in the match. That gives me less pressure. I'm just trying to focus on my game, not on the consequences and the results”.  
“Last year I lost a bit of joy on the court and I started a new adventure in my team, which has been a great thing for me. I enjoy being on the court again and that’s the most important thing.”

Pouille went into his match against Raonic as the underdog, as former semi-finalist, Raonic had shown fantastic form in beating Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev on his way to the last eight, but the Frenchman put in one of his most composed performances in recent times to take out the big-serving Canadian. 

Pouille did a good job of neutralizing Raonic’s serve, which admittedly wasn’t as potent as it had been in the earlier rounds. Raonic sent down 25 aces, but he got only 56% of his first serves in, and converted 71% of his first serve points, while he had been going at over 80% in each of the previous four rounds. Pouille was good behind his own deliveries, striking 14 aces and winning 84% of points behind his first serve. The 24-year-old was also solid from the back of the court, hitting 62 winners and just 24 unforced errors.

“I’m just really happy, I knew it was going to be a really tough match," Pouille said. "I returned great and kept my serve nearly all the match. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself and just enjoyed the moment.”

Pouille had not taken a set off Raonic in any of their three previous meetings, and the start was ominous for the Frenchman as Raonic raced out of the blocks to grab the early break and open up a 3-0 lead. That would be the only break point Pouille gave up throughout the match, as the Frenchman soon settled into his task. That early break looked like it would be enough to give Raonic the first set- it usually is- but the Canadian faltered while serving for the set at 5-3. Pouille brought up two break back points with a fizzing pass that forced a missed volley, and he got the break back when Raonic made a complete harsh of an easy short forehand, dumping it tamely into the net. 

Amelie Mauresmo celebrates Pouille's win over Raonic. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
With momentum on his end, Pouille carved out three more break points at 5-5, but he couldn’t convert, as Raonic dug out a hold from 0-40. The set would eventually be decided on a tie break, and it was Pouille who stepped it up late on, bringing up two set points with a lovely angled forehand winner, and sealing the set with a sublime forehand pass on the run.

The Frenchman pressed home his advantage early in the second set, breaking for the 3-1 lead, off a fine lob over the stranded Canadian on break point, and the rest of the set passed without any incident as Pouille went on to serve out a two-set lead to love. Pouille continued to stay on the ascendancy, and he was the one with the chances in the third set, forcing two break points at 3-3, and another couple at 4-4, but Raonic hung tough to force the tie break, which he dominated to take the match into a fourth set.

There was an early break point for Pouille in the fourth, snuffed out by Raonic in the second game, but just as the set drifted towards a tie break, Pouille struck at 5-4. 

Raonic should have closed out the game at 40-30, but he left a volley off a Pouille pass than dropped well in, and he was made to pay for that error in judgement. The Canadian did well to fend off two match points, but he couldn’t save a third, sending a backhand into the tramlines to confirm Pouille’s place in the last four, and the Frenchman's Melbourne date with Novak Djokovic.

Lucas Pouille vs Novak Djokovic is live from Melbourne on Friday, 25 January.

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Clinical Pouille takes out Raonic to reach first major semi-final: Frenchman to face Djokovic in last four

Lucas Pouille advanced to his first Grand Slam semi-final with a clinical four-set victory over Milos Raonic

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