Milos Raonic says he came to the court with a poor attitude, and it almost cost him. Fortunately for the fifth-seeded Canadian, his booming serve rescued him from a big upset.
Raonic saved a win with his 30th ace in a tense 6-7 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over American qualifier Steve Johnson on Thursday to advance to the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament.
While his serve was potent, Raonic said his poor play made the contest "complicated."
Raonic had to win it all in a tiebreaker after striking three double-faults as he served for victory leading 5-4 in the final set. In the end, the 23-year-old won the last four points of the tiebreaker, capping the victory with another ace.
"My attitude was not great when I was first serving for the match," said Raonic. "It added up and made life a lot tougher, it put a lot of weight on my shoulders. I was playing too negatively.
"Johnson was getting ahead a few times, but not by any great distance. I just complicated things in a lot of moments. I certainly would have rather had that final ace at 5-4 in the third."
Raonic plays on Friday against 15th seed Fabio Fognini, who beat Lu Yen-Hsun 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. He said that his downbeat demeanour that plagued his play Thursday is a temporary problem.
"It's a Milos problem, we've spoken of it many times," he said. "But the beauty of tennis is when you win, you can always play much better the next day."
Raonic lost the opening set after 45 minutes. Johnson won it in a tiebreaker when the Raonic's lob landed beyond the baseline.
In the second, Raonic began to turn the tide as he went up a break for 2-0 then levelled at a set each with a winner down the line on his second set point.
The third became hard work for Raonic due to his errors and tenacity from his American opponent. In the deciding tiebreaker, Raonic profited from Johnson's forehand into the net to take a 6-4 and claimed the win on the next point.
Raonic, the last Canadian left in singles competition, will be playing his second Cincinnati quarter-final after 2012, when he lost to Stan Wawrinka.
Also on Thursday, Spain's Tommy Robredo shocked world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 7-6 (6) 7-5 to move into the quarter-finals.
For the 16th seeded Robredo the victory was his first over Djokovic since their first meeting in 2005, the Serb sweeping their next six meetings.
The loss brought a temporary halt to Djokovic's bid to become the first player to win all nine ATP World Tour Masters events during his career.
It was also another setback in the Serb's buildup to U.S. Open later this month after falling to Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round of the Rogers Cup last week in Toronto.
In women's play, top-seeded Serena Williams continued her pursuit of her first title in this tournament with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Flavia Pennetta. Williams immediately took command, breaking Pennetta's first serve of the match. Williams, who's never won this tournament, also led, 5-0, in the second set.