By Ian Ransom
Andy Murray has had his mind elsewhere for much of the Australian Open but will need to bring laser-sharp focus into Friday’s semi-final against the red-hot Milos Raonic.
The world number two was rocked by a medical emergency involving his father-in-law Nigel Sears earlier in the tournament, while his wife Kim is heavily pregnant back home in Britain.
Murray shrugged off the distractions to fell David Ferrer in four sets in the quarter-finals and the Scot will need to have a clear head for Raonic, who is in the form of his career.
Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Raonic has long been touted for big things at the grand slams and guided by new coach Carlos Moya, the 13th seed maybe ready to fulfill his promise.
Raonic has always boasted one of the biggest serves on the Tour but has been criticised in the past for being too one-dimensional for the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
But the rangy Canadian has shown impressive versatility during the year’s first grand slam, the highlight being his aggressive serve-and-volley tactics that helped floor 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in five sets in the fourth round.
He stayed back on the baseline more against quarter-final opponent Gael Monfils but still kept the points lightning fast and the four-set match was over in little more than two hours.
Raonic has shown himself to be a man with a plan and credited Moya for helping him prepare for certain players.
Federer was impressed by the 25-year-old’s improvement after losing to him in the final of the Brisbane International.
“For a big guy he moves well. He’s improved his fitness the last few years. Also tactically he’s better now than he’s ever been,” Federer said after their final.
“He’s made a conscious effort of playing close to the baseline, which before when he was working with the Spanish coaches he was way back.”
Raonic shares a 3-3 head-to-head record with Murray but has lost the last two matches to the 28-year-old in straight sets.
Murray, who has made the final four times at Melbourne Park and lost them all, won their sole grand slam match-up in straight sets at the U.S. Open in 2012.
Their semi-final offers an intriguing clash of styles, with Raonic’s raking serve and power game matching up with one of the game’s best returners and defenders.
Also one of the tour’s finest passers, Murray will be keen to test Raonic’s commitment to coming into the net early in the match.
The Canadian will hope to keep the points short against Murray, who has the fitness and speed to match the game’s ultimate baseline hustlers, as Ferrer found to his detriment.
Big-match experience could ultimately prove decisive, with Raonic entering only his second grand slam semi-final versus Murray’s 18th and sixth at Melbourne Park alone.