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Rampant Djokovic sets up Raonic quarter-final

Novak Djokovic stormed into an Australian Open quarter-final against Milos Raonic © AFP / Manan VATSYAYANA

MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 26Defending champion Novak Djokovic swept past Diego Schwartzman and into an Australian Open quarter-final with big-serving Milos Raonic Sunday as he zeroes in on an eighth Melbourne Park title.

The rampant Serbian second seed was on another level to Schwartzman, the 14th seed, crushing the Argentine 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena to book an 11th appearance in the tournament’s last eight.

Raonic is his next hurdle and the Canadian has also been in fine touch. He is yet to drop a set, blasting past fellow former world number three Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.

“Milos is one of the tallest, strongest players on tour and has one of the biggest serves,” said Djokovic, who is into his 46th Grand Slam quarter-final, second only to Roger Federer’s 57.

“I’ve got to be ready for missiles coming from his side of the net. One key element will be how well I’m returning.”

The Serb has met 32nd seed Raonic nine times and won them all.

But the Canadian is back to full fitness after years of injury struggles and his powerful serve could cause problems. So far he has served 59 games and won them all.

Asked what he needs to do to beat Djokovic, he replied: “I think I’m going to have to hit more than 35 aces,” referring to the number he pumped past 2018 finalist Cilic.

“I think we play quite opposite from each other, and he’s done a good job in the past neutralising my serve,” he added of the Serb.

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“”So I have really got to focus on my things well and be the one dictating.”

The Australian Open is Raonic’s favourite Slam.

He reached the semi-finals in 2016, when he lost to Andy Murray, and the quarters on three other occasions, including last year.

His career, though, has been plagued by injuries, with operations over the years for hip, foot and wrist problems. He has also struggled with back, ankle, calf and knee issues.

He said it felt “pretty damn good” to finally be injury free.

– Quality player –

While Djokovic had won all three of his past meetings against Schwartzman, the Argentine had caused him problems previously and he needed to come from two sets down at Roland Garros in 2017 to win.

Despite this the writing was on the wall — the Argentine had never beaten a top-five player in 21 clashes, and it wasn’t about to change Sunday.

They went game for game in the opening set until Djokovic pounced, working a break point to get the crucial edge and go 5-3 in front.

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Sensing a quick victory, he stormed to a 3-0 lead in the second set, breaking twice.

But Schwartzman is a fighter who runs and scraps for every ball and he pulled back a break, only for the world number two to calmly serve out the set.

The scurrying Schwartzman is renowned as one of the fastest men around court and did all he could to claw back into the match, but Djokovic’s searing groundstrokes and pinpoint serving gave him few chances and the end quickly came.

“Diego is a quality player and I knew if I gave him time he could do a lot of damage from the back of the court,” said Djokovic, seeking to become only the third man to win eight or more titles at the same Grand Slam after Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

“I tried to mix it up a bit, bringing him from the back of the court with the slice.”

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