LONDON – Milos Raonic has made Canadian tennis history — and he beat one of the game’s best and most decorated players in the process.
The 25-year-old player from Thornhill, Ont., defeated Swiss superstar Roger Federer in a marathon Wimbledon semifinal on Friday to become the first Canadian man to play for a Grand Slam singles title.
Raonic edged the seven-time champion 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Centre Court.
While the win is satisfying after a straight-sets loss to Federer in the semis two years ago, Raonic said there’s still one more win to go before he can think about the effect it will have back home.
“It will be a bigger impact if I can win (the final),” Raonic told the BBC. “That’s what I’ve got to focus on first. I’ve got to put all my energy into that and then hopefully it does have a great impact.”
Raonic will face the winner of the other semifinal between local favourite Andy Murray and Czech Tomas Berdych.
Heading into the match, the third-seeded Federer held a 9-2 edge in head-to-head meetings with Raonic.
But the Canadian is showing he can compete with one of the game’s best ever. He beat the 34-year-old in straight sets in the Brisbane International final to kick off the 2016 season.
New coach John McEnroe has had a positive effect, Raonic said.
“What he told me today was ‘Go out there and leave it all out there.’ I showed a lot of emotion out there, always positive, and I think that’s what got me through mentally,” he said. “I had one of my best matches in my career and I think that’s what made the biggest difference.”
Federer, who had won all 10 previous semis at the All England Club, blew a chance to close out the match in the fourth set as Raonic broke him in the final game to force a fifth set.
The only other Canadian to get this far was Eugenie Bouchard, the women’s runner-up at Wimbledon in 2014.
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. He’s still tied with Pete Sampras and 1880s player William Renshaw with seven.
Federer last won Wimbledon in 2012, the last of his record 17 Grand Slam championships. He lost in the Wimbledon final the past two years to Novak Djokovic, who was ousted in the third round this year by Sam Querrey.
Federer fell just short of an 85th match win at Wimbledon, which would have put him in sole possession of the record of 84 he currently shares with Jimmy Connors.
After Raonic broke to take the fourth set, Federer called for a trainer on the changeover and had his right thigh massaged.
Then, while serving at 2-1 down in the fifth, Federer lost his footing on a deuce point and fell onto his stomach on the turf while trying in vain to reach a passing shot. Federer went immediately to his chair and called for trainer, who examined his left knee.
Federer, who had surgery on his left knee in January, resumed the game and didn’t show any outward sign of injury. But he was broken in that game after a crucial double-fault at deuce. On the second break point, Raonic stroked a forehand cross-court passing shot winner after both men made difficult volleys to stay in the point.
That break put Raonic in firm control, and he stayed on top the rest of the set and served out the match at love.
It was a breakthrough victory for Raonic, who has had McEnroe in his coaching corner since the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queen’s Club. In his previous Grand Slam semifinal match, Raonic lost to Murray at this year’s Australian Open.
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