Raonic ends Federer dream to set up Murray showdown
Milos Raonic marched into the Wimbledon final without a backwards glance at destroying the fairytale finish of Roger Federer's storied career nor with a pat of self-congratulation at becoming the first Canadian man to reach a grand slam final.
His focus on becoming champion will not be blurred by ending what must be the 34-year-old's best chance at capturing an 18th grand slam or with his past history against Andy Murray who beat him in the Australian Open semi-finals this year and again in the final at Queen's three weeks ago.
After that last defeat, Raonic told the Scot that he looked forward to a final rematch and the World No 7 was as good as his word, prevailing 6-3 6-7 4-6 7-5 6-3 as momentum swung repeatedly to set up a decider against Murray, who crushed Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-3 6-3 to reach his 11th grand slam final.
Leading two sets to one, Federer was dominating the fourth set but let slip three break points and then carelessly handed Raonic the initiative with a pair of double faults in the 12th game.
The 25-year-old ruthlessly seized that opportunity and kept his foot on Federer's throat.
After the Swiss dramatically tumbled in the fourth game of the fifth set that required a medical timeout, Raonic ruthlessly broke him, then powered away to inflict the Swiss maestro's first defeat in a Wimbledon semi-final.
It was a victory largely built on an astonishing serve that peaked at 144mph and produced 22 aces and a further 12 service winners.
Yet that monstrous bludgeon has always been part of Raonic's arsenal. Two years ago at the same stage, Federer picked him apart in straight sets. The difference now is a far greater mental resilience as underlined by saving eight of the nine break points he faced. In that respect, Raonic said the addition of John McEnroe to his coaching team was key.
"He's definitely put an emphasis on it," Raonic said. "Two years ago I bottled up all the difficulties I had on court and never got it out. Today I found a way to keep plugging away, keep myself in the match, then sort of turn it around."
Given the almost religious fervour that Federer inspires when he walks on Centre Court, Raonic entered like Ozzy Osbourne gatecrashing a piano recital with a bottle of Jack Daniels and mischievous intentions. The patrons who had come to expecting lush harmonies were instead treated to the thrash metal of the Raonic serve.
Yet Raonic is far more than just a lumbering behemoth. Several times during the match, the crowd started applauding what they assumed would be a Federer winner only for Raonic to come up with a return.
His touch at the net was also assured and that package of power and poise allowed Raonic to dictate the initial proceedings. He was handed a break when Federer double faulted in the fourth game and saw out the first set with two mighty forehand winners.
So it continued into the second set with both men serving with authority, yet Federer eventually got a read on Raonic's serve forcing four break points in the tenth game of the second set. Raonic held firm but Federer would take the set in a tiebreak courtesy of a Raonic double fault.
The balance of power continued to shift. Federer was concentrating on the Raonic backhand and it paid dividends when he broke in the seventh game of the third set.
At two sets to one up, Federer had that imperious air but Raonic was hanging in there, saving two break points in the fifth game and another in the ninth.
It was then Federer stumbled in the 12 game and Raonic sensed blood. A poor Federer approach was just the invitation he needed to put away a backhand winner to tie up the match at two sets apiece.
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Having not been in a five-set match since the 2014 US Open, Federer was now playing two back to back and the trainer was required during the changeover to massage his aching limbs.
Raonic puffed his chest out, his body language transformed. The final blow was administered in the fourth game in which Federer was sent sprawling, face down on the turf that used to be his domain.
The king is dead, but what a reign it was. For Raonic a potential coronation awaits.
"I had opportunities and I am sad, angry at myself because never should I have allowed him to get out of that (fourth) set that easily," said Federer. "I was able to finish but I don't slip a lot. I don't ever fall down.
"It was a different fall to me than I have ever had. With the body playing up this year, I hope I'm going to be fine. But I do hope to be back on Centre Court next year."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)