By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) - Milos Raonic made Roger Federer feel his age at Wimbledon on Friday as the Canadian sharp-shooter bombarded Centre Court with a succession of 140 mph missiles to flatten the seven-times champion and reach his first grand slam final.
Raonic appeared to be down and out as he trailed Federer by two-sets to one and 15-40 in the fifth game of the fourth set but somehow he managed to cling on for a 6-3 6-7(3) 4-6 7-5 6-3 win and became the first Canadian man to reach a major final.
"It’s an incredible comeback for me," said the sixth seed, who will be seeking to win his first grasscourt title when he meets 2013 champion Andy Murray on Sunday in a repeat of last month's Queen's Club final.
"I was struggling throughout the third and fourth sets, he was playing some really good tennis and just on a little opening I managed to turn it around and finish it off in a great match.
"I showed a lot of emotion today, always positive, and that’s what got me through. Mentally I had one of my best matches in my career and I think that’s what made the biggest difference."
Federer, who had survived a five-set thriller two days ago against Croatian Marin Cilic, added: "He fought. He believed, like I did against Cilic. Credit to him for hanging in there."
The Swiss had come into the tournament with "no idea" about his own staying power as he had been forced to miss last month's French Open with a back injury.
Some of those questions were answered when he recovered from two sets and three match points down to beat Cilic but many pundits believed Raonic's younger limbs would deliver the knockout blow as two days was not enough for a 34-year-old's body to recover from such a taxing showdown.
Yet, incredibly, it was Raonic, 25, who appeared to be heading for a second semi-final defeat in three years against Federer as the third seed surged ahead and earned two break points in the fifth game of the fourth set.
Raonic kept his wits about him to save both and he survived a third in the ninth game as his thunderbolt serve got him out of trouble again.
When Federer moved to 40-0 in the 12th game, the contest was poised to enter a fourth-set tiebreak. But two days after the Swiss boldly stated that "my second serve has always been there for me... it never lets me down" -- guess what? It let him down.
Two successive double faults brought Raonic to deuce and while Federer saved two set points -- with an unreturnable serve and a volley winner -- his luck ran out on the third.
A blazing backhand passing shot had Raonic pumping his fists towards his support box as a shell-shocked Federer, who had come back from two sets and three match points down to beat Cilic on Wednesday, was left wondering how the set got away from him.
"Federer had it all going his way but you couldn't script that this would go on and on," exclaimed Raonic's grasscourt mentor John McEnroe.
The 17-times grand slam champion, who was about to contest his 10th set in three days, called on the trainer to massage his aching limbs back to life but it was the mental scars that could not be rubbed away.
Four games into the final set, with the score at deuce, Federer rolled his left ankle as he lunged after a flying forehand winner from Raonic and found himself sprawled face down on his beloved turf.
He lay still for what seemed an eternity before getting back to his feet and then slumped into his chair rather than heading for the baseline.
The crowd started to chuckle, wondering if Federer was staging a sit-in protest, but in fact he had called on the trainer again to manipulate his left knee and leg.
The Swiss, chasing a record-extending 11th appearance in the final, managed to save that break point but Raonic refused to let him off the hook and four points later the Canadian had the break for 3-1 as he ended a dazzling net exchange with a rasping crosscourt passing shot.
From them on there only seemed to be one winner and, after firing down 23 aces, with his fastest serve being clocked at 144 mph, Raonic bagged a place in the final when Federer floated a tired forehand long to end the three hours 25 minutes duel.
"This one clearly hurts, because I could have had it. I was so, so, close," summed up Federer after coming off second best for the first time in 11 Wimbledon semi-final appearances.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, Editing by Ken Ferris)