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Raonic ends lucky loser's run at Indian Wells

The Canadian Press logoThe Canadian Press 4 days ago Beth Harris

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(Video provided by CBC)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - Milos Raonic made sure Miomir Kecmanovic's good luck finally ran out at the BNP Paribas Open.

The Canadian beat the 19-year-old Serb 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the semifinals and improve to 19-4 at Indian Wells since 2014.

Raonic, the No. 13 seed from Thornhill, Ont., fired 13 aces against no double faults in putting away Kecmanovic in 72 minutes on a sunny, windy and cool day in the Southern California desert.

"I think the conditions are good for me, especially when the sun's out," Raonic said of Indian Wells, where he has made at least the semifinals in his last four appearances. "The court heats up a little bit. There is a good amount of jump on the court.

"This year it's a little bit slower than the previous years, but it allows me to take a few more swipes at a few more shots, and I can do different things with my serve that I need to get ahead in the point."

Kecmanovic was the first lucky loser to reach the quarterfinals at the tournament since it became a Masters 1000 event in 1990. Ranked 130th in the world, the Serb lost in qualifying, but his fortune soon turned.

Three seeded players withdrew before the tournament began, clearing the way for Kecmanovic to become a lucky loser and receive a first-round bye.

The teenager certainly made the most of it. Kecmanovic got by three players, including 30th-seeded Laslo Djere, in straight sets to set up his second meeting with Raonic.

That's where Kecmanovic's luck ended.

Raonic won 88 per cent of his first-serve points and saved all three break chances against him.

In January, Raonic beat Kecmanovic in straight sets in Brisbane.

Raonic is looking for his ninth career ATP Tour title, but has never won at the top level below Grand Slams — Masters 1000.

When asked where a title this week would rank in his career, Raonic said, "It would be there, I believe, parallel to the Wimbledon final (in 2016), if not higher, just because it's going through a week amongst the best players in the world without sort of ending with a loss."

Karolina Pliskova, of the Czech Republic, serves to Belinda Bencic, of Switzerland, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) © Provided by thecanadianpress.com Karolina Pliskova, of the Czech Republic, serves to Belinda Bencic, of Switzerland, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Raonic will face the winner of a match between No. 18 seed Gael Monfils of France and No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria in a semifinal.

Meanwhile, the string of upsets continued on the women's side.

Belinda Bencic beat fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to reach the semis, ensuring her return to the top 20 in the rankings.

"I wouldn't believe I win today again," Bencic said. "I'm not going to the court with any expectation. I'm just trying to play. This is the mentality I have, and this is the mentality I'm going to keep having."

Bencic's victory set up a semifinal against No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber, who beat error-prone Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-3 in a match-up of 30-somethings.

Williams led 4-2 in the first set before Kerber won three straight games to go up 5-4. Williams broke the German to tie it 5-all and then held for a 6-5 lead. But Kerber held in the next game to force the tiebreaker, which she dominated.

Angelique Kerber, of Germany, hits a return to Venus Williams, of the United States, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) © Provided by thecanadianpress.com Angelique Kerber, of Germany, hits a return to Venus Williams, of the United States, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Williams fought off two break points to tie the second set 2-all before Kerber again won three games in arrow for a 5-2 lead. She broke Williams in the match's longest game that went to deuce five times when Williams' forehand went wide.

Williams alternately smacked winners from the baseline and sprayed shots beyond the lines. The 38-year-old former world No. 1 was a semifinalist in the desert last year.

Miomir Kecmanovic, of Serbia returns a shot to Milos Raonic, of Canada at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) © Provided by thecanadianpress.com Miomir Kecmanovic, of Serbia returns a shot to Milos Raonic, of Canada at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

But Williams hasn't made it farther than the quarterfinals at any Premier Mandatory or Grand Slam tourney since last year's BNP Paribas Open. Until Kerber stopped her, Williams had won four matches in a row for the first time since last year in the desert.

Bencic was pushed to three sets for the first time in four matches at the tournament. She was coming off a straight-set upset of defending champion and top-ranked Naomi Osaka in the fourth round.

Pliskova raced to 4-1 lead before wrapping up the second set. In the third, she overcame a break point to hold at 2-all but only won one more game the rest of the way.

"Physically, it was tough somehow, and the wind didn't help much," Pliskova said. "So my serve was bad, my shots were bad."

Bencic improved to 18-3 this year. She won her third career title at Dubai last month and her first since 2015. The 22-year-old Swiss player missed five months in 2017 after wrist surgery.

"When you're confident, you can really just trust your instincts and you don't have to think about it at all," Bencic said. "I'm definitely playing how I feel it, and it's going well so I'm not planning on changing that."

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., advanced to the women's semis on Wednesday. She'll face No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on Friday.

In women's doubles, Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski was eliminated in the semifinals on Thursday. The fifth-seeded team of Dabrowski and Yifan Xu of China lost 6-2, 7-6 (5) to Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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