Milos Raonic’s dream of stepping into the Wimbledon final crashed horribly Friday.
The Canadian tennis slugger was outclassed 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 by Roger Federer in their semifinal at the All England Club.
It puts on hold the arrival of tennis’ new generation. When the men’s final plays out Sunday it will be the old guard; Federer in search of a record eighth championship here, and top seed Novak Djokovic, who defeated another young gun, 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov.
Raonic could’ve become the first Canadian man to reach a Wimbledon final. Instead, the No. 8 seed from Thornhill, Ont., was schooled in the finer points of tennis by one of the best players of all-time.
It was the grandest stage Raonic had ever been on and he said afterward that “I think I put that too much on myself.”
If the moment was too big for the 23-year-old, it was like old times for Federer who won for the 73rd time at Wimbledon.
“Disappointed. I know I can do much better,” Raonic said, “I was expecting much better of myself.”
Federer jumped on Raonic early. Both have dominating serves, with the Canuck coming into the match having won 84 of his 86 service games.
But Federer broke him three times -- once in each set -- to cruise to victory.
“I had to really focus on every point,” Federer said. “I had to be very careful on my service game. I knew there would be few chances on the return.”
Raonic was on his heels from the outset, and couldn’t hold serve in the opening game.
A touch of nerves? Perhaps. On the decisive volley he hit wide on a shot that looked quite makeable. It was a sign of what would transpire.
When Federer held serve, he led 2-0 and Raonic had three faults already.
Not the start for which Raonic had hoped. He had a chance to fire a return down Federer’s throat when both approached the net in the fourth game. But Raonic’s meek return was sent back gracefully by Federer for the winner and a 3-1 lead.
While Raonic has an impressive serve, Federer proved he could more than match it with an overall mastery. He didn’t lose a point, pulling ahead 4-2 as Raonic struggled to find consistency in his forehand returns.
Slowly, this was settling into a battle of service games, with Raonic holding his to pull within 4-3.
He had Federer on the hook for the first -- and really the only time -- 40-30, when he hit just inside the line on a nifty backhand. Federer ripped a couple aces to get out of trouble, holding serve for a 5-3 advantage.
Raonic made it 5-4, heating up his serve to 135 miles per hour. But it was never enough. With Federer serving for the set, Raonic’s return fell wide.
The Swiss whiz had the first set, and from then onward exposed the holes in Raonic’s game with clinical precision.
Federer faced only one break point, beating Raonic for the fifth time in five meetings.
The Wimbledon experience is far from a complete washout for Raonic. His still-impressive run to the semis will move him to sixth in the tour rankings. His strength, his serve, makes him a threat against almost anyone.
But Federer used his skill and savvy to take advantage of Raonic’s lack of speed and he fed on the youngster’s predictability by breaking him at 4-4 in the second and third set.
Those two moments, Raonic said, proved his fatal.
“The first set he played so well I don’t think I could’ve done much about it,” he said of Federer. “Both times at four-all -- the way I played was the biggest disappointment.”
In the second set, that turning point came after a nifty drop shot by Federer evened the score at 4-4. Raonic’s game fell through the floor. He fell behind 0-40 on serve.
He was missing his first serve, taking steam out of his second, and Federer jumped all over it. When Raonic hit cross-court and long, Federer had the break, and an easier-than-expected route to the final.
Raonic had never come back from being two sets down in a major. And he didn’t this time either.
He is now winless in his last eight matches against top-four ranked players since 2012.
The upside is that Raonic is only 23, with plenty of time to refine his game, and already Canada’s highest ranked player ever. Losing to Federer is disappointing, but no disgrace.
With an eighth win at Wimbledon Sunday, the 32-year-old would move ahead of American Pete Samprass for the all-time men’s record.
Conversely, for Raonic, this was his first taste of centre court in a Grand Slam semifinal; his first taste of the emotion; his first experience dealing with the intensity and jangling nerves.
Like Dimitrov who lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7) to Djokovic, he came up second-best.
But, for tennis’ young guns, it was another lesson learned in their own journey to glory.
“I think (the new generation) have it in them,” Raonic said. “I think it’s more a matter of knowing how to deal with the situation.”