It finished on an ace, of course. Milos Raonic’s stealthy progress to his maiden Grand Slam semi-final is complete, sealed with a 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(4) victory over Australian wildcard Nick Kyrgios. Now, the ultimate test: a Centre Court showdown with seven-time former champion Roger Federer.
No Canadian player had previously reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, but now, in Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard in the Ladies’ Singles event, they have two. With Grigor Dimitrov facing Novak Djokovic in Friday’s other semi-final, two children of the Nineties now take on two former champions for a shot at the Gentlemen’s Singles title. Talk of a sea change in the sport is gathering pace.
“It goes around, it resonates,” Raonic said when asked to reflect on a potential changing of the guard at the top of the men’s game. “The one result that stands out the most this year has to be, at least in my eyes and maybe other guys as well, is what Stan [Wawrinka] did at the beginning of the year. Beating Novak and Rafa in that same time [at the Australian Open], because you have to do it, that one was the biggest sigh of belief and relief for a lot of guys.
“I felt it when I was watching it in Tokyo during Davis Cup. You felt like, ‘Okay, he did it. I feel like I compete well with this guy – why can't I do it?’”
As for wildcard Kyrgios, his wild ride is over – for now. The first debutant to reach the quarter-finals in a decade, he will find himself comfortably entrenched in the world’s top 100 next week after his heroics at The Championships, hitting that extraordinary peak against two-time former champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round and confirming his status as a star of both these Championships and plenty more to come.
What the 19-year-old might have been able to muster with an extra day’s rest, we will never know; less than 24 hours later, however, his adrenaline ran dry as Raonic rode out his bright start to ease himself to a composed victory.
Even when decked out in all-white, the contrast between the two could hardly be starker. The sharp side-parting and compression sleeve encapsulate Raonic’s Clark Kent persona perfectly – the unassuming Canadian nice guy with a serve faster than a speeding bullet. He began the match with 108 aces to his name, a tally topped by just two men before the quarter-finals: John Isner, with 110, and one Nick Kyrgios – all pink headphones, gold chains and close-cropped lines shaved into his head – on 113.
After an impromptu rendition of Advance Australia Fair from Kyrgios’s supporters in the stands, the world No.144 picked up where he left off against Nadal – fearlessly frustrating the pre-match favourite with some bombastic ball-striking from all corners of the court. For eight minutes Raonic pushed Kyrgios around the court in search of a break at 2-3, but the teenager kept him at bay, his wide serve in the ad court helping him save four break points.
Buoyed by his display of resilience, Kyrgios nicked the set with the only point against serve in the tie-break, and produced another moment of inspiration with a lunging forehand pass early in the second set. But Raonic refused to go away, relentlessly moving the 19-year-old from corner to corner, and when he sealed his first break of the match to lead 3-2 the momentum had inexorably shifted.
As Kyrgios faded, Raonic moved through the gears and the third set disappeared in a flash, sealed amid confusion as the Australian expected a let on a Raonic ace. The fourth might have gone the same way, but the Australian showed creditable grit to push the world No.9 into another tie-break with a dogged serving display. There, however, Raonic ground out the win, capping another solid display with a 39th ace, his 147th of The Championships all told.
There will be no more flying under the radar from here on out. Raonic faces a new Everest on Friday: a showdown with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, a man undefeated in eight previous Wimbledon semi-finals. A daunting prospect, to put it mildly, but not one the 23-year-old plans to dwell on.
“I'm going to step out there and I'm not playing the seven-time Wimbledon champion,” he said defiantly. “I'm not playing a 32-year-old man; I'm not playing father of two sets of twins, which is a very low possibility, I bet, to do; I'm not playing the guy that's won whatever he's won, which I could probably list quite vividly.
“I'm playing a guy that is standing in my way of what I want to achieve, and I've got to focus on everything that's there, on the situation, how best to deal with it to give myself the best possibilities to achieve what I want.
“I focus on what I need to do. Everything else is a ripple effect. Everything else is a reason. I have to create the cause for it by playing good tennis and giving myself the possibility to win.”
After all, why can’t he do it?
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all