London, July 8 (IANS) Milos Raonic fulfilled a long time dream on Friday as he reached his first Grand Slam final after beating seven-time champion Roger Federer 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in three hours and 25 minutes at Wimbeldon.
In a virtuoso display of serving, Raonic had the veteran struggling for timing on his returns and lost serve only once in 27 service games.
Raonic had lost at the same stage to Federer in 2014 but this year has looked a man on a mission after starting 2016 with a fine showing in Australia reaching the semifinals at Melbourne after winning the title at Brisbane.
On Friday, Raonic started strong winning the first set with an early break. He faced trouble at 0-30 on serve leading 4-2 but consecutive serves of 142,128,136 and 130 mph ensured he held to 5-2. The Canadian served out the set closing with two winning forehands. The second set went to a tiebreaker which Federer dominated to win it easily at 7-3.
In the third set, Federer started getting a read on Raonic's serve and broke to 4-3 when Raonic mis-hit a forehand down breakpoint. Federer then served out the set with ease closing it out with an ace.
In the fourth set, the Swiss World No.3 had 2 break points at 2-2 but Raonic came up with some hard serves and wonderful volleys to hold in a crucial game.
Later on, serving to take it to a tiebreak, Federer played a loose game from 40-0 serving two double faults.
On his third set point, Raonic came up with a terrific backhand passing shot to take the match in to a decider. At this stage, Federer called the trainer to work on his legs perhaps feeling the after-effects of his long semifinal against Marin Cilic in the previous round.
The fifth set started off on level footing before a rare slip on the grass for Federer meant that he was facing breakpoint. Raonic showed off his improved defensive skills and then hit a backhand pass to break serve after a spectacular rally that had the crowd in raptures.
Raonic had a chance for double break but Federer held on strong with good support from the crowd. But it just delayed the inevitable as Raonic came up with huge serves to complete the win.
After the match, Federer was disappointed but waved aside any doubts of retirement. "This one clearly hurts because I felt I could have had it. So close. It was really so, so close. It clearly hurts. But I am not thinking about this might be my last Wimbledon.
"And, yes, I hope to be back on Centre Court. The match against Cilic, the 10 sets I played the last two matches really gives me the belief that I'm match fit or tougher physically than I thought I was. I never thought I could do this before the tournament started. Actually, it's very encouraging for the season, hopefully for the rest of my career. Not that I was worried it was going to end somehow, but I was insecure coming into Wimbledon."
He also noted the steady improvement made by the Canadian especially off the returns which was a big factor.
"Obviously makes more returns now since two to three years. That was always going to improve. From that standpoint, I think that's a big difference. He's always had great focus. Serve for serve, point for point, he's always done a tremendous job there. I feel like since maybe a year and a half now he feels maybe a bit more comfortable coming to net."
(S. Rajesh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)