Milos Raonic became the first Canadian man ever to reach the final of a Grand Slam tennis tournament thanks to a thrilling but exhausting five-set victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon on Friday (8 July). The seven-time winner, who had never lost in 10 previous semi-final clashes at SW19, held a comprehensive head-to-head advantage ahead of a dramatic thriller on centre court but ultimately could not last the pace and threw away a 2-1 lead to bow out 6-3, 6-7, 4-6 7-5, 6-3.
Big-serving sixth seed Raonic, who lost to the same opponent at this stage two years ago, started in extremely confident fashion, taking the first set after forcing a rare double fault en route to securing the only break in game number four. He then displayed steely resolve and sheer guts to save four set points to level the second at 5-5, but those efforts were ultimately in vain as Federer kept his trademark composure to comfortably take the tiebreak 7-3.
It felt like a missed opportunity and the vastly experienced Federer was quick to capitalise, breaking at the second attempt to lead 4-3 in the third and trading service games before a mightily impressive hold to love saw him claim both the set and an obvious psychological advantage.
Under the watchful eye of coaching consultant John McEnroe, Raonic battled hard to save two break points to keep the fourth set on serve at 3-2 and rescued another with a booming ace to take Federer to deuce before again holding out to stay ahead at 5-4. The Canadian produced a mind-boggling volley of the utmost quality while trailing 0-30 at 5-5, holding against the odds to edge in front once more.
The tension around SW19 was palpable as Federer then wobbled with back-to-back double faults while leading 40-0 and was forced to brush away two set points. He had no such luck with the third, however, beaten by a well-placed backhand winner down the line.
Having not been involved in any five-set matches at all since the 2014 US Open, Federer, who came back from 2-0 down to beat Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals, was now into his second in the space of just three days. The early stages of the decider stayed on serve until the Swiss, who called for the trainer after slipping and landing heavily on his left knee, was taken to deuce and saw off another break attempt before finally being beaten by a passing forehand. Raonic later kept his cool to serve out the match to love.
"I was struggling throughout the third and fourth sets, he was playing some real good tennis, it was just a little, little opening," he told the BBC afterwards. "It'll be a bigger impact if I can win, that's what I've got to focus on first. It's a great feeling to be continuing and give myself a chance of playing in my first final."
Raonic will play either Britain's Andy Murray or Czech world number nine Tomas Berdych in Sunday's final. Federer, meanwhile, misses the chance to move clear of Jimmy Connors as the all-time leader in Grand Slam matches won.