While the rest of the field collapses about him, Roger Federer marches serenely on. With Rafael Nadal gone, and Novak Djokovic joining Andy Murray in the treatment room, he is the last of the Big Four still standing. And this victory in his quarter-final engagement with Milos Raonic was so routine only those anxious to part with their money would bet against him still being there come Sunday evening.
For one thing, those left in contention cannot rely on age to wither him. After swatting Raonic aside in straight sets – 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 – Federer became, at 35, the oldest man to reach a semi-final since Ken Rosewall in 1974. That was not the only record the smooth, silky Swiss earned himself: he now stands at the very pinnacle of Wimbledon achievement as the only man ever to play in 12 semi-finals here.
“I feel like it’s coming along nicely, to be quite honest,” he said, with telling understatement.
Because the thing was, from the moment he walked out for this quarter-final, no one thought there could be any other outcome. Raonic had done his best to confuse the Roger worshippers gathering in Centre Court by coming out dressed as their hero. Wearing the same arrangement of bandanna and wristbands, he might have been described as Federer’s mini me. Well, apart from the fact he is 6ft 5in.
But any possible confusion ended with the clothing. While Federer is all rubber-wristed subtlety, Raonic is a foghorn thwack merchant. From the start the Canadian’s tactics were clear as he dispatched a 140mph howitzer serve in the first game.
The odd thing about Federer, however, is that while his serve may lack the sheer pace of the young gunslinger’s, it is much more difficult to return. Time and again his service games were over before you noticed they had begun, won in a flourish of line-hugging aces. Whereas from the start, Raonic was struggling to hold his. And soon the stands were echoing to the sighs of Roger-love as pinpoint backhands lasered down the line.
Raonic has long carried an air of the mechanical. It is not just that he looks robotic in his movement, like the world’s first animated Ken doll. Everything he does appears to be pre-planned, thought-through, as if he has had the spontaneity function removed. The trouble was, when Fed kept returning his boombang serves, he did not look programmed to know what to do. Particularly when he charged to the net and was obliged to duck to avoid the sizzling, chipped forehand return which secured the first break of the match.
This was Federer’s 100th match at Wimbledon and it quickly developed into the pattern of so many that have come before. It was a schooling for his opponent. Raonic could only watch as, to a soundtrack of cooing and purring from the stands, Federer demonstrated his utter mastery of the court’s geometry.
Time and again Raonic was left looking rather puzzled as the ball found with unerring certainty the one part of the court he could not cover.
Watching this dismantling, it was hard to appreciate that the Canadian had beaten Federer in the semi-final here last year. The memory of the Swiss lying face down on the turf in the fifth set seemed entirely false.
But back then the fact was he was carrying an injury in a knee, one which required surgery to correct. As his victory in the Australian Open demonstrated, his surgeon should use him in all his advertising material as the perfect example of success under the knife.
He had won the first set within 31 minutes, sending down 14 winners, while recording just two unforced errors.
“I’m much better prepared for Wimbledon this year,” he admitted. “I felt I could see that in Milos’s game, as well, he was not playing as well as he was last year.” As the second set began, the glorious Federer passing shots were on full display. And he broke Raonic in the first game. There was a telling moment in the midst of the set when Raonic hit an arcing forehand well out of play but Federer sent back an absolute missile of a return, just to give visual insistence that even if the shot had gone in, he would have won the point.
So it was that Federer eased himself two sets up within the hour, before winning the tie-break in the third set to complete the demolition. When Raonic punched his final shot wide of the line, Federer celebrated with uncharacteristic lack of inhibition. He knows how close he is to his 19th grand slam title. Now he faces Tomas Berdych in the semi, with the prospect of Sam Querrey or Marin Cilic in the final. They might as well give him the trophy now.
The semi-final line-ups are complete
Here's the state of play for Friday's semis:
Roger Federer vs Tomas Berdych
Marin Cilic vs Sam Querrey
In 2005 both Federer and Venus Williams won Wimbledon. Twelve years later and they both could be celebrating this weekend. Venus last won a slam back at 2008 in south west London and faces Jo Konta for a place in the final tomorrow.
"I'm very happy that my body has kept me going after all this years. Mexican Wave on Centre Court, you don't see that every day.
Wimbledon without the 'big four':
"You knew the dangerous was there for one of us. I hope for Andy and Novak will recover in time for the American summer. I'm sure Rafa will come back very strong. I predicted that Cilic would have a good run, and he's proving to do so. It's nice to see different guys. I'm glad my dream run is continuing."
"What if we win all the Slams this year?" pic.twitter.com/i3H94u6JMP
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) July 12, 2017
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 Raonic TIE-BREAK CONT
Soft hands at the net move Federer one point closer (3-4), and the legendary Swiss delivers a pin-perfect forehand on the chase to edge ever nearer (3-5). Raonic manages to stop the rot after five straight points for Fed (4-5). But an ace down the T brings up two set points (4-6). When Raonic pushes a service return into the sidelines, Federer is through to his 12th Wimbledon semi-final (4-7). GAME, SET AND MATCH: FEDERER BEATS RAONIC TO REACH SEMI-FINALS.
Raonic uses racket. Federer uses wand. Guess who wins the point?
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) July 12, 2017
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 6-6 Raonic TIE-BREAK
Raonic holds on his serve for the opening point (1-0), but a mishit return from Federer hangs a mini-break to Raonic (2-0). Great offensive play from Raonic with a forehand down the line puts the heat on the Swiss (3-0). Federer pulls out a monster of a forehand which has too much power for Raonic (3-1). And he flashes a service return winner on the same forehand wing to take it back on serve (3-2). Federer pats away a volley at the net to level at the changeover (3-3) and the momentum is back with Federer.
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 6-6 Raonic* (*next server)
And tie-break time it will be as Federer holds to 15.
Omens for Federer:
The last time Federer was the only one of the big 4 in a Slam semifinal was Roland Garros 2009. He won it.
— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) July 12, 2017
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 5-6 Raonic (*next server)
Raonic's serving levels remain high. He's up at 72% on his first serve points won. He needs to break here, if not it will be the lottery of the tie-break.
— Pat Cash (@TheRealPatCash) July 12, 2017
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 5-5 Raonic* (*next server)
A love-hold for Federer and over on Court One and Djokovic has been forced to retire through injury. He'd lost the first set on a tie-break. The winner of this match will play Berdych in the semi-final.
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 4-5 Raonic (*next server)
Just when it looks like it will be an easy hold, Raonic dumps a volley into the net to bring Federer back for 40-30. A sublime service return winner on Federer's forehand wing puts the heat on Raonic. The Canadian covers the net well, sending down a volley for advantage. Federer draws an error from his opponent to hang around this game. Raonic misses a first serve but a deep second forces Federer to hit through a forehand. Federer finally strikes a backhand into the sidelines and we remain on serve this set.
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 4-4 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer reacts to his second double fault OF THE CHAMPIONSHIPS with a swinging forehand into the corner. But as Tim Henman observes, like 'London buses', Federer throws in another double before responding to Andrew Castle's loaded question of 'when did you last take public transport?'
But that's all a sideshow. Federer throws in a loose game and has gifted Raonic break point. He saves it when Raonic can't connect cleanly to a forehand. Federer holds up his play by wiping down his brow after taking back to a second deuce. Raonic covers a considerable amount of grass to chase and make a forehand. He sends it back across Federer for another break point but Federer responds again. Raonic returns to the scene of that last point triumph with another forehand winner on the chase for break point No 3. Federer toys with his opponent, moving Raonic side-to-side and pulling the trigger on another winner. Raonic keeps the faith, making Federer play one more shot each time. Finally, Federer gets over the line with a smash and forehand winner. Great resolve shown from Raonic but the pressure will now be on.
Happy to be here?
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 3-4 Raonic (*next server)
Steady does it again for Raonic as he keeps his focus, ignores one forehand pass from Federer to steer his way through another reasonably solid service game.
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 3-3 Raonic* (*next server)
Still no opening for Raonic on the Federer serve as the No 3 serve moves through the gears again with a love-hold. He knows he just needs a break and will be racing into the semis.
Meanwhile, the Konta mania has well and truly taken over after Murray's departure.
— Matt Trollope (@MattyAT) July 12, 2017
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 2-3 Raonic (*next server)
Federer's level has dipped slightly as Raonic rediscovers his first serve weapon. Now back up at 73% on his first serve and winning 69% of those points. An eighth ace moves him ahead again this set.
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 2-2 Raonic* (*next server)
The Centre Court crowd liven up their evening's entertainment with a Mexican wave. They show great discipline and control to end the frivolities before the umpire tells them off. It's back to business on the court with a love-hold from Federer.
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 1-2 Raonic (*next server)
Just when Raonic looks to be feeling his way back into the match he drops a loose volley wide. The Canadian doesn't let that miss faze him, rushing the net to punch a volley home on the next point and rattled through the game to 15.
Richard Krajicek isn't having a blast watching his former protege losing heavily.
Federer 6-4, 6-2, 1-1 Raonic* (*next server)
Raonic wins his seventh and eight points off Federer's serve for a mini-break. The Swiss powers down a solid first serve and enjoy the longest rally of the match on the next point which sees Raonic chasing down a forehand only to stick wide. But wait. Federer can occasionally miss. A forehand into the sidelines hands Raonic his first break point. It goes in a flash as he can't return a first serve. Federer won't let that happen again he steers home with an ace.
Federer* 6-4, 6-2, 0-1 Raonic (*next server)
A change of trainers and socks for Raonic as the slow hand-claps ring round Centre. They want to press on with the match just as much as Federer does. The lengthy delay has helped settle Raonic. He mops up a return at the net and backs up with a serve-volley for three game points. Federer denies him a love-hold, reeling him in to 40-30 before Federer can only slice a backhand wide.
Federer, a month from his 36th birthday, is playing absurdly good tennis.
Jeff Tarango reckons his tennis would still be good aged 65.
— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) July 12, 2017
Federer 6-4, 6-2 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer serving for the set and continues sending down the winner, this time his 14th from the baseline with a swinging forehand. An ace brings up three set points. He bullies Raonic into the error and takes it on the first. We've only been playing an hour! FEDERER WINS SECOND SET .
Federer* 6-4, 5-2 Raonic (*next server)
Raonic looks bemused as Federer strokes another forehand winner past the Canadian. That was clocked at 92mph but looked as if the Swiss had struck at half pace. In true Federer fashion he is turning on the style when it matters most. Raonic hasn't been able to impose himself on the legend staring back at him. Intimidation shouldn't be a factor, he's beaten Fed in their last two matches but that was before the renaissance of Fed.
Just as Raonic edges closer to game, Federer reels him back with another sumptuous backhand winner down the line. An ace and solid first serve finally get the job done.
Federer 6-4, 5-1 Raonic* (*next server)
Crowd on Centre Court don't appear too fussed by the one-sided nature of this quarter-final. As long as Federer is winning, all is good with the world. Federer swats at a backhand which lands flush on the line for game. Boris Becker observes that 'it's like an exhibition now'.
Federer* 6-4, 4-1 Raonic (*next server)
A couple of sloppy points from Raonic brings up a mini-break for Federer. Raonic is struggling to get make a first serve and Federer is picking up the scraps of the second serves. Fed steps in to make a forehand winner for three break points. Raonic saves the first with a convincing smash. He saves the second with a booming ace down the T. He can't save the first as Federer goes to pass him with his trusty backhand again. Raonic connects but pushes the reply wide. FEDERER BREAKS.
Federer 6-4, 3-1 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer admitted to a bout of nerves during his second-round win over Serbian Dušan Lajović last week. He's leading Raonic a merry dance today. He holds to love again with great net play.
Federer* 6-4, 2-1 Raonic (*next server)
Raonic showing more aggression at the start of this service game, punching his volleys with more conviction and pushing Federer behind the baseline.
He sets himself well with a serve-volley but pats the reply into the net. He hasn't been able to settle at all as a nerveless Federer moves through his gears. An outswinging ace brings up his first game of the second set.
Federer 6-4, 2-0 Raonic* (*next server)
It's a masterclass from Federer right now. The No 3 seed is hitting winners past Raonic left, right and centre and the Canadian is struggling to catch his breathe. Raonic prevents a love-hold with a smash into the ad side, but is watching another backhand winner flying past him a second later. The latest winner was clocked at a mild 88mph. Wow.
Federer* 6-4, 1-0 Raonic (*next server)
Federer has Raonic slipping to the turf with one return into his toes. The big Canadian is back to his feet and returns to the service line facing more heat at 30-all. The pressure starts to tell again as Federer loops a delicate pass crosscourt to bring up break point. Raonic tries to keep Federer on his backhand, but in his over-eagerness to pin him into the corner he pushes wide. FEDERER BREAKS.
Federer 6-4 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer sends down two unreturnable serves to move 30-0 before the umpire throws Fed's rhythm by telling the crowd to be quiet. Federer is reeled in when he over strikes a forehand, but an ace down the T on his first set point brings up the opening set after 31 minutes. He is yet to drop a set at Wimbledon this fortnight. FEDERER WINS THE FIRST SET.
Federer* 5-4 Raonic (*next server)
Federer makes quick work of a short reply to drill a forehand winner crosscourt. Raonic is patrolling the net well, dispatching his volleys. Federer tries to throw his rival, launching a lob which the Canadian can't deal with and a backhand error from the sixth seed allows Federer to creep back to deuce. Raonic serves and volleys at game point to make Federer serve for the first set.
Federer 5-3 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer gliding freely around the court, controlling the net and executing his groundstrokes. Another love-hold takes him one game away from the first set. He's only dropped three points off his serve.
Always the pro...
— Nicole Gibbs (@Gibbsyyyy) July 12, 2017
Federer* 4-3 Raonic (*next server)
Raonic recovers from dropping serve last time out, pushing deep on his returns and drawing a couple of errors from Federer. He wins it to love with a smash into the corner.
Federer 4-2 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer cements the break in the only way he knows how, with a love-hold.
Over on Court One, and Cilic won the fifth set 6-1 against Muller. He'll face Querrey in the semi-finals.
Federer* 3-2 Raonic (*next server)
Federer knocking on the door of the Raonic serve as the Canadian throws in his third unforced error for 15-30. Federer misses a chance of a pass but then brings up break point when Raonic volleys into the sidelines. Federer seizes the chase, putting his 35-years-young legs to the test to chase down one reply and sends a forehand straight back at Raonic. The Canadian ducks, but the ball sails over his head and lands in. FEDERER BREAKS.
Federer 2-2 Raonic* (*next server)
Federer striking the ball cleanly and with his usual great precision during another dominant service game. Raonic gets a rub of the green when a shot clips the net cord, but it's the only point he scratches off Fed.
Federer* 1-2 Raonic (*next server)
Federer flicks his wrist and sends his trademark backhand down the line to pass Raonic for the first time. It's deja vu again as a second backhand winner draws laughter from the watching Jermaine Jenas in the stands. Fed goes for a third straight backhand winner, it's straight back at Raonic this time, but the Canadian pats it into the net. Federer has a first look at a break point. He's sent out wide by a deep return from Raonic, he retrieves but Federer can't lift over his next reply.
Raonic rushes the net again after another solid second serve but this time Federer can't pass. Raonic gets through a sticky service game with a forehand winner into the corner. A let off for the Canadian.
Federer 1-1 Raonic* (*next server)
A fifth straight point for Ranoic as Federer strikes the net. The sixth seed steps in and misses a forehand to allow Federer his first point of the match. Another loose forehand brings Raonic back level before Federer edges clear with an outswinging ace and a serve-and-volley.
Federer* 0-1 Raonic (*next server)
Federer has won nine of 12 duels with the Canadian but lost the last two as Raonic serves first in their 13th meeting. It's a comfortable start with an 140mph ace bringing up three game points. It's not even the fastest serve of the fortnight, Raonic holding that honour still with a 142mph thunderbolt.
Not about Federer or Raonic but Murray and the possibility of losing the world No 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic next week.
The players are out on Centre going through their warm-ups in front of a half-empty stadium as they try to come to terms with Murray's exit.
Murray would be the first slamless-in-52-weeks #1 since Hewitt in 2003. https://t.co/YLlHrwYaRB
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) July 12, 2017
So after Murray lost his five-set duel, Cilic vs Muller has gone the distance over on Court One. What about Federer vs Raonic? Will this last the course? Can't see it myself.
Federer: I'm a changed man
Roger Federer has warned today's opponent Milos Raonic he is a completely different player to the one that lost to the Canadian at Wimbledon 12 months ago.
Federer plays Raonic in a re-run of last year's semi-final, when Raonic overpowered the Swiss in five sets.
Raonic was beaten by Andy Murray two days later while Federer reacted by taking six months off to recover from a niggling knee problem.
This summer, however, it is something of a role reversal, with Raonic searching for rhythm after an injury-interrupted year and Federer resurgent following his surprise triumph at the Australian Open.
"I feel like I'm rested enough. I've had not the toughest matches. I can look at this quarter-final in a totally relaxed fashion," Federersaid.
"Physically I'm not fighting anything like last year with my knee. I'm ready to go this afternoon if I have to, which is great, but I don't have to. I think that's a great bonus.
"Then again, the best players are left in the draw. It's going to be a tough one. I'm aware of that. That's why I can't think too far ahead. I think it's going to be a tough finish to this tournament."
Federer is yet to drop a set in his four matches at SW19 while Raonic had to twice come from behind to edge out Alexander Zverev on Monday.
The world No 7 is the only player ever to have got the better of Federer in a Wimbledon semi-final but even he believes last year's victory carries little significance.
"I don't think it really means much. It's far removed from the last time we played," Raonic said.
"Things are a little bit different sort of in terms of momentum for both of us."
The winner will face either 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic or the 11th seed Tomas Berdych.
Over to you Mr Federer
Welcome to our liveblog for Milos Raonic vs Roger Federer, which should get started very soon on Centre Court, where defending champion Andy Murray has just been defeated by Sam Querrey.
Who will the home crowd turn to now? It's Federer all the way now, surely.