He was slow out of the gate on Tuesday, but 2011 breakout star Milos Raonic eventually found his form on Court 3, beating world No.104 Jan Hajek 3-6 6-1 6-2 7-6 (0) in their Australian Open 2013 first round meeting.
It was the first-ever match between the Czech and the No.13 seed from Canada, who used the 2011 Australian Open to make his name known in the tennis ranks by qualifying and reaching the fourth round of the main draw.
From the outset, Raonic, who stands 196cm and serves one of tennis’ biggest deliveries, struggled to stay consistent against the smaller journeyman, a 29-year-old veteran. Hajek saved a break point in his opening service game and again in game three, breaking Raonic late in the set and taking it 6-3 in 36 minutes.
"I was playing a little bit tight," Raonic said of his early performance. "I sort of wasn't hitting freely. I was just letting him get in the points and get in the match."
In sets two and three, however, Raonic began to warm up, particularly on his serve, belting his way to 6-1 and 6-2 efforts in a combined 53 minutes.
But the fourth set Hajek reinserted himself, coming back from a break down to even things at two-all with a scrambling forehand pass down the line that left Raonic frozen at the net. The two men held serve throughout the remainder of the set, including in game seven when Hajek saved a break point.
It was Raonic who had to save a break point in the next game, beaming a second serve winner up the T at 30-40 down to save it.
In the tiebreak, Raonic hopped to a mini break lead and then never looked back, Hajek’s unforced errors spelling disaster.
On match point, Raonic belted another serve that couldn’t be returned, winning in two hours, 26 minutes.
"He's steady," Raonic surmised. "Normally [I'm] pretty good when I get ahead in the point making the guy go from side to side. I was letting him into the game. That's why I was a bit disappointed with, well, not just that part but many parts of the match."
It would be hard for Raonic to be disappointed with his serve, however, as he rocketed 30 aces in the four-set affair. The Canadian saw just 45 per cent of his serves come back into court, a healthy statistic even for someone with his serving prowess.
The three-time title winner came into the net almost twice as many times as Hajek, winning 12 of 21 approaches in an effort to shorten the points and keep the tennis at a fast-moving, abbreviated pace.
Raonic’s serve wasn’t the only thing dictating play, as he was the bigger hitter off the ground as well. The 22-year-old smacked 56 winners to just 24 for Hajek.
Raonic has a solid foe awaiting him in the second round, whoever it may be. He plays the winner of big-serving Brit Jamie Baker and Lukas Rosol, the Czech who took down Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. Raonic has never faced either player.
A year ago, Raonic was foiled by Lleyton Hewitt, who beat him here in the third round.