WIMBLEDON, United Kingdom – Milos Raonic is headed to his first career Grand Slam final after defeating Swiss star Roger Federer in a breakthrough semifinal performance that will be remembered as a watershed moment in Canadian tennis.
The hard-serving player from Thornhill, Ont., beat the Swiss superstar 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Friday to become the first Canadian man to advance to a singles final at a major.
The win came two years after Raonic was swept out of the semis by Federer, a seven-time champion who had never lost in the final four at the All England Club before Friday.
“Definitely a great feeling for many different aspects,” the 25-year-old Raonic said. “Obviously what happened here two years ago, that was very disappointing. But I persevered, I kept plugging away.
“I was struggling through many points of the match. … The attitude kept me in the match and I think that made the difference. I was quite vocal but I was always positive and was always looking for a solution.”
Raonic will face local favourite Andy Murray on Sunday. Murray dispatched Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in Friday’s other semi.
Heading into the match, the third-seeded Federer was a heavy favourite with a 9-2 edge in head-to-head meetings with Raonic. This time, Federer flinched the way he seemingly never used to.
Serving to get to a tiebreaker at 6-5 in the fourth set, Federer went up 40-love. After a forehand winner by Raonic, the unthinkable happened: back-to-back double-faults to let Raonic back into the game. Eventually, Raonic took advantage of a soft volley to deliver a down-the-line backhand passing winner, breaking for the first time since the match’s fourth game _ which ended with a double-fault by Federer _ and sending the semifinal to a fifth set.
“I can’t believe I served a double-fault twice. Unexplainable for me, really,” Federer said. “Very sad about that and angry at myself because never should I allow him to get out of that set that easily.”
The only other Canadian to get this far was Eugenie Bouchard, the women’s runner-up at Wimbledon in 2014.
While Bouchard made an early exit this year, other Canadians have been making a run alongside Raonic. Seventeen-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the boys semifinal Friday while he and Canadian partner Felix Auger-Aliassime downed Youssef Hossam and Ergi Kirkin in the boys’ doubles quarter-final.
Raonic said he was watching Shapovalov’s singles match before he went on Centre Court to face Federer.
“It’s a pretty special recognition to the state of Canadian tennis and it’s not just me,” Raonic said. “There’s many people that are doing well on this stage and the junior stages.
“There’s a lot to look forward to, there’s a lot of prospect, there’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of positive future for Canadian tennis and it’s great to be at the centre of that come Sunday. I’m glad that I’ve sort of been leading this charge, the first to break through … but I’m by no means done.”
The sixth-seeded Raonic served 23 aces among his 75 winners. The No. 3-seeded Federer broke serve only once, while Raonic managed three breaks.
For Federer, the loss means he remains one title short of the all-time Wimbledon men’s record. The 17-time major champion is still tied with Pete Sampras and 1880s player William Renshaw with seven.
He also is hoping a slip in the fifth set that put him face down on the court didn’t do any serious damage.
“I hope it’s not so bad. I walked it off. I was able to finish,” Federer said. “But I don’t slip a lot. I don’t ever fall down. It was a different fall for me than I’ve ever had.”
Asked how badly he might have been injured, Federer replied: “I don’t know yet. I don’t even want to know. I just felt not the same afterwards.”
This has been a difficult season for Federer, who never needed an operation until having his knee’s torn cartilage repaired in February.
He’s also had back issues, missed the French Open to end a 65-appearance streak at majors, and came to Wimbledon without a title in 2016.
“You’re playing who Roger is today,” Raonic said, “not who he’s been the past few years.”
It was a breakthrough victory for Raonic, who has had John McEnroe in his coaching corner since the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queen’s Club.
Raonic lost to Murray at this year’s Australian Open in his previous Grand Slam semifinal match.
“The disappointment (of that loss) I’ve put behind me, or at least I’ve tried to,” Raonic said. “I feel like I was playing some great tennis back then. I feel like I’m playing better tennis now.”
He’s the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Murray reached the title match in 2012 at the same age.
Raonic came into the semifinals on a five-match losing streak against players ranked in the top three. He was also 0-4 in majors against top-three players.
With files from The Associated Press