Milos Raonic persevered with his serve-and-volley game plan, holding firm even in the deciding set against Stan Wawrinka after the 2014 Australian Open champion had rallied from two sets down to force a fifth.
It paid off with a 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3 victory on Monday which secured his spot in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
It was Raonic's first win in five matches against French Open champion Wawrinka, who the only man to beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam match last year, and the only player to beat at Melbourne Park after 2010.
Raonic said he felt fitter, faster and more confident in going to the net more frequently, and all that combined to produce his first win on Melbourne Park's center court.
“For me,” he said, “I think it was more you have these guys, these Grand Slam champions, guys that have been playing great, and to beat one of them for the first time at a Slam, doesn't matter if that was on Court 15 or whichever court, it has a very concrete sort of message to the work I'm putting in and how I'm going about things.”
The 25-year-old Canadian is into the quarterfinals for the fourth time at the majors, including a loss here last year to Djokovic. Next up, he'll face No. 23 Gael Monfils, who reached the last eight in Australia for the first time in 11 trips with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Andrei Kuznetsov.
Andy Murray moved to within two matches of the final — and another chance for Melbourne Park redemption — when he beat local hope Bernard Tomic, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in the fourth round. Murray has lost all four finals he's contested at the Australian Open, including last year's championship match to Novak Djokovic.
On Monday, both players had trouble with their serves — there were a combined 10 service breaks, six by Murray.
The Scottish player moved into a 4-2 lead in the tiebreaker and went to match point after an ace and backhand error by Tomic. The Australian saved two match points before returning a serve long to give Murray the win in 2 hours, 30 minutes.
David Ferrer reached his sixth quarterfinal at the Australian Open, holding off No. 10 John Isner, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
The two-time Australian Open semifinalist hasn't dropped a set in four rounds and will next play either Andy Murray, a four-time finalist, or Bernard Tomic, the last Australian in the draw.
On the women's side, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka returned to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Barbaro Strycova, 6-2, 6-4. A growing favorite for the title in a strong comeback from two injury-interrupted seasons, Azarenka next faces No. 7 Angelique Kerber, who beat fellow German Annika Beck, 6-4, 6-0.
Johanna Konta's strong run at the Australian Open continued with a 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 win over 2015 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova in a night match, when she became the first British woman since Jo Durie in 1983 to advance to the quarterfinals in Australia.
Raonic and Wawrinka were both on seven-match winning streaks entering the fourth round, both having won titles leading into the season's first major. Raonic won in Brisbane, beating Roger Federer in the final, and Wawrinka in Chennai.
Raonic dominated in the first two sets, but then Wawrinka went on a roll and it appeared he was ready to come back from two-sets down to win for a seventh time at a major. But then momentum shifted again, when his attempted passing shot landed long in the sixth game of the fifth, giving Raonic the decisive break.
For Raonic, it was vindication that his plan to dictate with his serve and move forward was working. He won 37 of the 57 serve-and-volley points he played. He won 22 of his 25 service games, broke Wawrinka's serve five times and had 82 winners to 52.
“I think it's what helped me win in Brisbane. It's what helped me win my first three matches here, is that comfort and confidence of going forward,” he said. “But not even just that. In the off-season I spent a lot of time up at the net. So it's not just about a confidence, it's about an understanding of what I need to do.”
Former No. 1-ranked Carlos Moya has joined Raonic's coaching team for 2016, and may help take him to the next level.
“I think it's just about a calm, and understanding how I can be more efficient with my game,” Raonic said, explaining that Moya was there to help him get organized on and off the court. “Today was a good example of that.”
Wawrinka said he was feeling drained after an illness in recent days, and was surprised to push Raonic to five. He had to concede Raonic was capable of a major breakthrough, if he could put back-to-back wins over the likes of Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
“He's been semifinal already. He beat some top guys already. Always been dangerous with his serve,” Wawrinka said. “For sure he will have some chance to go far in Grand Slam. But to win a Grand Slam, you have to beat two of the big four. It's never easy.”