It was quite an afternoon of tennis at Wimbledon today. After the fireworks on Wednesday, few thought there’d be a comparable second act, but there was.
Roger Federer and Milos Raonic got together again for a rematch of their 2014 Wimbledon semifinal. This time around, it was the Canadian’s day in a 5-set thriller 6-3, 6-7(3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in nearly three-and-a-half hours.
From the start, you could tell this was a different Raonic from the one Federer had seen two years earlier. In fact, this time Raonic held his first service game and then he just kept on holding.
While Raonic thumped his serve and forehand, Federer blinked early dropping serve in his second service game. And that was the end of the first set.
With the prospect of coming from two sets down again a task too great even for Federer, the Swiss had to solve Raonic and win the second. But the Canadian didn’t offer many opportunities, serving even better, while Federer scratched and clawed and seemed to be struggling more.
Federer, though, kept varying pace, moving Raonic around and his hard work paid off. He got to a tiebreaker, got an early mini-break and we were level.
With a set in the bag, Federer calmed down after an early wobble. Raonic seemed to get tense and began to stray. Federer got into a nice serving groove and he was able to grab a break and closed out the set with ease. It was Roger’s match.
Federer continued the momentum in the fourth, and began making serious inroads on the Raonic serve. Things looked promising for a quick finish. But his failure to convert on three break points and several other mini-chances would ultimately be his downfall.
Serving 40-0, 5-6, we were heading for a tiebreak. That’s when things fell apart. Out of nowhere Federer tossed in two double faults to go to deuce. Where there was no hope, now there was. And Raonic pounced threading a backhand passing shot to give him the set. The crowd, the tennis world was stunned.
A fifth it was and after playing almost four hours Wednesday, how much would the 34-year-old have left? The answer: not much.
Federer served 1-2 when he memorable stumbled lunging at the net. Down break point, he received treatment on his right thigh. With tension high, he somehow returned to save the break point but eventually lost serve and it was over.
Oh, those opportunities in the fourth set.
“I can’t believe I served a double fault twice,” said Federer. “Inexplicable for me really. Very sad about that and angry at myself because never should I allow him to get out of that set that easily. I mean, he deserved it. He earned it at the end. But I helped him so much to get back into that game. I would have liked to see a breaker because I was the better player for the set. I know he’s great in tie-breaks and all that, it was always going to be tough. But I would have liked to see him scramble more than that.”
Raonic, who had never beaten Federer before in a Slam and had never been to a Grand Slam final, was just as surprised.
“That’s an incredible comeback for me,” Raonic said. “I was struggling through the third and fourth sets, and with just a little opening I managed to turn around.
“Today, I persevered. I was plugging away. I was struggling through many parts of the match,” he said. “Attitude kept me in the match. I think that’s what made the biggest difference.”
Raonic served well like I thought and he did well enough off the ground. But the big strides he made were in his net game which saved his rear more than once. And under John McEnroe, he’s become more emotional.
“Two years ago, I bottled up all the difficulties I had on court and never got it out,” Raonic said. “Today, I found a way to keep plugging away, keep myself in the match, then turn it around. I was quite more vocal and a lot more positive on court.
“He’s definitely put an emphasis on it. A lot of times I felt in matches that I need to sort of calm myself down to let things from getting out of control.”
Federer had never lost a Wimbledon semifinal before (10-0) and with no Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, this was likely that last chance at 18.
“This one clearly hurts because I felt I could have had it,” said Federer. “It was really so, so close. It clearly hurts.
Federer, who turns 35 in just a month, can take the fact he did beat Marin Cilic and he should have finished off Raonic today. But the other fact is, he didn’t.
“The 10 sets I played in the last two matches really gives me the belief that I’m tougher physically than I thought I was,” said Federer. “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.
“It’s been a great run for me here, I must say. I just hope with the slip I had in the fifth, I’m going to be fine tomorrow and beyond. I totally overachieved here. The match against Cilic was epic. It was fun to be part of that match.”
In the second match, Andy Murray had his way as expected with Tomas Berdych, thrashing the Czech 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to advance to his third Wimbledon final and third straight Grand Slam final of the season. And on Sunday there will be no Novak Djokovic or Federer waiting in the final.
“It’s obviously the first time I’ll play a Grand Slam final against someone that isn’t Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. So that’s different,” said Murray. “But you never know how anyone’s going to deal with the pressures of a Slam final. I just have to go out there and concentrate on my side and do what I can to prepare well for it.”
So Murray-Raonic it is.
“Milos is a very tough opponent,” said Murray. “He’s played very well on the grass this year and earned his right to the final by beating one of the best, if not the best player at this event. He deserves to be there.”
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