|Milos Raonic of Canada hits a return to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France during their men's singles match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York August 30, 2012. (REUTERS)
The shadow of Andy Murray is looming over Milos Raonic again.
Raonic, who struggled to win his U.S. Open first-round match in five sets on Tuesday, made shorter work of Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu Thursday to advance to the third round at Flushing Meadows for the first time in his career.
Raonic, the Grand Slam tournament's 15th seed, pounded out 30 aces en route to a 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Mathieu that took just over two hours. He finished with 49 winners and 29 forced errors against 128th-ranked Mathieu, who often seemed overwhelmed by a booming first serve, which averaged 124 mhp and topped out at 141.
"Much better, as far as the basics are concerned," Raonic said of his second-round performance. "I still need to do quite a few things better. The two breaks I got, I Played two good points and he sort of gifted me two of them.
"I didn't do that well on my return games. I was not doing enough with the ball."
The 21-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., will meet American James Blake, a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 winner over 24th-seeded Spaniard Marcel Granoller Thursday, in the third round.
But never mind that vanilla matchup with Blake, a two-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist who appears, at 32 years old, to be on the downward slope of his career. The Yonkers, N.Y., native is ranked 114th and was just 5-11 this year heading into the U.S. Open.
"I played James before, about two years ago," Raonic said. "But it's more about (him) adjusting to me than myself adjusting to him. I do feel good about my game, I'm getting better and better. I now have two days to get even better."
A much spicier fourth-round encounter with Murray, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, is on the horizon for Raonic. Murray will play Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, the U.S. Open's 30th seed, in the third round.
Raonic beat Murray in Barcelona earlier this year and was set to face him in the third round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. But Murray withdrew prior to the match due to a leg injury.