By Pritha Sarkar
MILOS Raonic made Roger Federer feel his age on Friday as the Canadian sharp-shooter bombarded Wimbledon’s Centre Court with a succession of 140 mph missiles to flatten the seven-times champion and reach his first grand slam final in five gripping sets.
Raonic appeared to be down and out as he trailed Federer by two-sets to one and 15-40 in the fifth game of the fourth set but somehow he managed to cling on for a 6-3 6-7(3) 4-6 7-5 6-3 win and became the first Canadian man to reach a major final.
“It’s an incredible comeback for me. I was struggling throughout the third and fourth sets, he was playing some really good tennis and just on a little opening I managed to turn it around and finish it off in a great match,” said the sixth seed, who will meet Andy Murray or 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych in Sunday’s final. “It’s a great feeling.”
Raonic appeared to be heading for a second semi-final defeat in three years against the 34-year-old Federer but kept his wits about him to stay alive. After saving two break points in the fifth game he managed to save a third in the ninth game as his thunderbolt serve got him out of trouble again.
The contest appeared to be heading for a fourth set tiebreak as Federer moved to 40-0 in the 12th game but two days after the Swiss boldly stated that “my second serve has always been there for me… it never lets me down” — guess what? It let him down.
Two successive double faults brought Raonic to deuce and while Federer saved two set points — with an unreturnable serve and a volley winner — his luck ran out on the third.
A blazing backhand passing shot winner had Raonic pumping his fists towards his support box as a shell-shocked Federer, who had come back from two sets and three match points down to beat Marin Cilic in the previous round, was left to wonder just how he had let that set get away from him.
“Federer had it all going his way but you couldn’t script that this would go on and on,” exclaimed Raonic’s grasscourt mentor John McEnroe.
The third seed, who was about to contest his 10th set in three days, called on the trainer to massage his aching limbs back to life but it was the mental scars that could not be rubbed away.
Four games into the final set, with the score at deuce, Federer lunged after a flying forehand winner from Raonic and found himself sprawled face down on his beloved turf.
He lay still for what seemed an eternity before getting back to his feet and then slumped into his chair rather than heading for the baseline.
The crowd started to chuckle, wondering if Federer was staging a sit-in protest, but in fact he had called on the trainer again to manipulate his left leg.
The Swiss, chasing a record-extending 11th appearance in the final, managed to save that break point but Raonic refused to let him off the hook and four points later the Canadian had the break for 3-1 as he ended a dazzling net exchange with a rasping crosscourt passing shot.
From them on there only seemed to be one winner and, after firing down 23 aces, with his fastest serve being clocked at 144 mph, Raonic bagged a place in the final when Federer floated a tired forehand long to end the three hours 25 minutes contest.
“This one clearly hurts, because I could have had it. I was so, so, close,” summed up Federer after coming off second best for the first time in 11 Wimbledon semi-final appearances.