Raonic top seed at Australian Open heading into quarterfinals vs. Nadal

Milos Raonic fistpumps after a pointMilos Raonic has been handed a golden opportunity at the 2017 Australian Open. The biggest obstacles between the Canadian and his first grand slam title—Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic—both suffered stunning early-round upsets, leaving the door open for the third-seeded Raonic, provided he can get past 2009 champion Rafael Nadal in Wednesday’s quarterfinal match.

Djokovic lost in the second round to wild card qualifier Denis Istomin, while Murray fell in the fourth round against Mischa Zverev. Raonic briefly looked as though he would suffer a fate similar to Murray’s on Monday in his fourth-round match against Roberto Bautista-Agut, rallying to win the opening set in a tie-break before dropping the second set and struggling to contain his frustration in the third. It appeared as though the pressure of being the top remaining seed was getting to Raonic, but a brief rain delay allowed him to regain his composure and cruise through the rest of the match, winning the decisive fourth set 6-1.

Despite the early exit of Murray, who defeated Raonic in the 2016 Wimbledon final, and Djokovic, who is 8-0 against Raonic, the remaining field is still full of challenges, starting with Nadal. Although Nadal hasn’t won a major title since the 2014 French Open and Raonic has defeated him twice in their last three matches—including a back-and-forth victory in Brisbane early in January—getting the better of him in a five-set match will require more control than Raonic exhibited Monday with nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors.

Raonic also served 33 aces in his win over Bautista-Agut, bringing his tournament total to 93. The serve has always been Raonic’s biggest weapon, leaving opponents on their back foot even if they manage to return his powerful strikes. Raonic won 81 percent of his first-serve points and only 48 percent of second serves on Monday, showing how vital establishing an accurate service game is to his chances of advancing past Nadal.

Beyond Nadal, fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who won the Australian Open in 2014, and four-time champion Roger Federer are also in the quarterfinals. All of these players know exactly what it takes to win a grand slam tournament - the physical endurance, the mental focus, the emotional composure - and also the euphoria of victory on one of tennis’s biggest stages. With a little more luck, Raonic might know that feeling as well by the end of the week.