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NEW YORK – It most definitely wasn't pretty. And for a few brief moments here and there it was even in doubt. But Milos Raonic survived a test against the tricky German Peter Gojowczyk Thursday at the U.S. Open, defeating him 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 to move into the third round.
"It's about getting through. It's about finding a way and getting through. That's what I was able to do. I have one day now to get better and I know I'll play better my next match," Raonic said.
Each set played out on just a few points at one crucial juncture late in the set. It was a whole lot closer than perhaps it should have been on paper, with Gojowczyk ranked No. 124 and having never been ranked higher than No. 99.
In fact, before this season, the 25-year-old had played a total of four career matches at the ATP level.
But what Gojowczyk has done is defeat Raonic – 6-4, 6-4 in the second round at Halle, the grass-court warmup event in Germany right before Wimbledon this year.
Early on, Raonic had the demeanour of a player who knows that his opponent knows how to beat him, and is wondering in the back of his mind if it might happen again. He was testy from the start, when chair umpire Mariana Alves directed a ballboy to take one of Raonic's three bottles containing various substances and put it up on his chair to keep a towel from blowing away in the wind.
"Tie it down another way," Raonic said, tersely.
Later, he nearly mowed down another ballboy on his way to his chair to swap out his racquet after his serve was broken. And there was some of the barking at his team of supporters in some of the tighter moments.
But his biggest problem was Gojowczyk, more precisely the way he hits the ball: hard, flat, low-bouncing. Raonic compared him to France's Gilles Simon, except Simon is a little more defensive and Gojowczyk is far more aggressive with it, which is a lower-percentage play and much more difficult to execute week in and week out but is highly effective when it's on.
"If he just even puts it through the middle, it's hard for me because the ball never really comes up to my strike zone like against most guys," Raonic said. "It's tough to play him when he's making those shots and moving as well as he was in the beginning ... I was sort of letting myself fall into his routine. Then I just picked it up at the end."
Raonic repeated several times that he just "wasn't doing the right things."
"I got a little bit caught up, because I thought he was playing really well at the start," Raonic said, "Rather than just focusing on my stuff and sort of getting through that way and thinking, 'Okay, keep this up,' I was getting a little too caught up in him."
In the end, Raonic eked it out, with a little help from Gojowczyk and by slowly but surely imposing his game after serving at just a 40 per cent rate in the first set.
He now faces Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic who, at age 34, is playing in his first career U.S. Open main draw. Burgos doesn't have the flat firepower of Gojowczyk nor the confidence of having once beaten Raonic, although they did play a five-setter in the Americas zone competition in Davis Cup a few years ago.
He does, however, have a quality slice backhand that he used to great effect in carving up 17-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia in four sets Thursday afternoon.