Raonic, Dimitrov power into Open quarter-finals
TENNIS: Milos Raonic - the highest-ranked player left in the Australian Open men's draw - rode his greatest weapon through rain delays and past a pesky opponent into the quarter-finals.
The Canadian world No.3 was unusually fragile on serve against Spanish 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the opening two-and-a-half sets, but one of the tour's most feared strokes came good just in time.
Raonic, a semi-finalist last year, saved two of three break points in the ninth game of a rain-interrupted third set with 200km/h-plus aces and a third saw him out of trouble.
He then crashed through Bautista Agut's defences a game later to go two-sets-to-one up and the fourth set was a procession as Raonic posted a 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-4 6-1 triumph in 2hr 52min.
Raonic, who cannoned 33 aces among 75 winners, won nine of 11 games once the Hisense Arena roof was closed to book a clash with 2009 champion Rafael Nadal or sixth seed Gael Monfils.
"This was up and down. Most of the match, it was quite inconsistent, I think, from both of us," Raonic said.
"I was sort of there on the brink in the end of the third set, then turned it around (and) made it really count."
Raonic's on-court resume also includes runner-up and semi-final appearances at Wimbledon, but he may never have a better chance to break his grand slam duck with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic out.
"It sort of crosses your mind, but it's very insignificant, because there's a lot for me to even get past that point where it would have been to play potentially against those guys," he said.
"I have some very difficult tasks ahead of me."
Earlier, one emerging storyline ended another when Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov ousted Novak Djokovic-conqueror Denis Istomin 2-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals.
The Uzbekistan wildcard was trying to upset a third straight seed after backing up his Djokovic heroics with victory over Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta.
Istomin didn't face a break point until the 11th game of the second set, but Dimitrov - a former world No.8 who slipped to No.40 last year - rose to the task.
Fifteenth seed Dimitrov struck 33 of his 37 winners in the final three sets and committed only 27 unforced errors in an accomplished display across 2hr 25min.
"It's been an exciting time - I'm not going to lie. I've been in Australia for four-and-a-half weeks already and I'm just happy and appreciating this kind of moment," the 25-year-old said.
"I played against an unbelievable player on fire in Denis and he deserves all credit for playing amazing tennis and beating Novak."
It helped that Istomin finally started performing like a man ranked 117th, with his unforced errors increasing from three in the opening set to 11 in both the second and third sets and finally 13.
His body also showed the strain of consecutive five-setters as he sought treatment for hip and hamstring issues.
Dimitrov faces off-season training partner David Goffin in the last eight, knowing he won their sole ATP-level clash.