Calgary Herald

Raonic takes on Federer

Hopes to change 0-4 record against Federer


LONDON — If Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., beats the great Roger Federer on Friday and reaches the Wimbledon men’s singles final, the name of Lieutenant Robert (Bobby) Powell will forevermor­e be banished back to the dusty archives from whence he emerged two days ago when the 23-year-old Raonic made the semifinals.

Powell, a lawyer from Victoria, B.C., played on and captained Canada’s first Davis Cup squad back in 1913. He reached the final eight at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club three times: In 1908, 1910 and 1912.

In 1908, he reached the semifinals. He never made it to the final.

During a season that has been full of history-making Canadian tennis accomplish­ments, Raonic is poised to add another chapter along with countrywom­an Eugenie Bouchard, who is in Saturday’s women’s final.

But Raonic’s task is, to say the least, easier said than done.

“I’ve played (Federer) I believe four times now. He’s got the better of me all four times. But I haven’t played him I think in more than a year, a year and a bit, so I think I’m a different player. I’ve got close with him in the past and I’ve found a lot of those things I can sort of pull away that give me a lot of belief that I can do this,” Raonic said. “So there’s no point talking about it. I’ve got to step up and do it.”

The running narrative in tennis the last few years has been the arrival of a new generation and how it was only a matter of time until one of them — with Raonic arguably leading the pack as the only one who has spent consistent time in the top 10 during that period — broke through and won a major.

But it hasn’t happened. The biggest problem for the young guns is that standing between them and one of those pieces of cherished hardware is one, usually two and sometimes even three of those perennial champions.

The usual suspects, champions on court and examples off the court, continue with rare exceptions to take home all the big trophies.

Raonic and another member of Generation Next, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, are in the final four. The other two players are establishe­d members of the old guard in Federer and Novak Djokovic.

To take home the Wimbledon trophy, Raonic would have to defeat Federer, against whom he’s 0-4 even if a couple of those encounters, those on faster surfaces, were more than competitiv­e.

He then, in theory, would have to defeat Djokovic, against whom he is 0-3 but against whom he also has been very competitiv­e — at least on red clay, which is the only surface on which they have competed. On paper, he also was slated to face world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. See? Three. But teenager Nick Kyrgios took care of Nadal, and Raonic then defeated Kyrgios.

In the end, Raonic hasn’t beaten any of the trophy hogs. At least not yet.

Raonic was a tall, gangly kid ambling into Wimbledon for the first time in 2008.

He was a borderline junior type who had to win two qualifying matches just to get into the main draw, where he lost in the second round to a lefty from Brazil, Henrique Cunha, currently ranked No. 396 on the ATP Tour.

Raonic remembers that Wimble- don, because the first-round win here was the only singles match victory he ever had at the ITF junior Grand Slam level.

Those legs seemed a mile long then; the co-ordination was a long way from being there and the competitiv­e calm he now displays was just a distant speck on the horizon.

Raonic played doubles that year with countryman Vasek Pospisil, who at the time wasn’t breaking any records either, but who was in huge demand as a doubles partner by all the top juniors of the day because of his all-court skills.

Tennis Canada sort of told Pospisil he had to play with this Raonic kid, who wasn’t much of a doubles player. They lost in the second round.

Six years later, how the landscape has changed.

Gone are the years in Canadian tennis when whomever did make the main draws at Grand Slams exited early, and “Canadian Tennis” pretty much meant however far Toronto’s Daniel Nestor went in the men’s doubles event.

Nothing underlined that reversal of fortune more than Nestor and partner Nenad Zimonjic losing in the quarter-finals of the men’s doubles Thursday, a day Bouchard made the women’s singles final, Raonic prepared to play the men’s singles semifinal, and Pospisil and American partner Jack Sock upset the No. 2 seeds and made the men’s doubles semifinal.

And it’s not as though Nestor, now 41, is done. Far from it. He is the defending mixed doubles champion with Kristina Mladenovic of France, and the pair is in the semifinals of that event.

So on the second Friday at Wimbledon, there are Canadians still alive in four of the five events (and it very easily could have been all five).

All have a shot at taking home hardware.

That’s history. And it’s kind of hard to process.

Raonic, for his part, will be playing against history Friday in the person of Federer, though he’s trying not to think about it that way.

“I’m playing a guy who is standing in my way of what I want to achieve,” said Raonic, “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.”

 ?? Clive Brunskill/AFP/Getty Images ?? Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., takes on Roger Federer in men’s singles semifinal action at Wimbledon Friday. Raonic is winless in four head-to-head matches against the Swiss star.
Clive Brunskill/AFP/Getty Images Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., takes on Roger Federer in men’s singles semifinal action at Wimbledon Friday. Raonic is winless in four head-to-head matches against the Swiss star.

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