LONDON (Reuters) - Roger Federer reached a ninth Wimbledon final after emerging unscathed from the crosshairs of the bullet-serving Milos Raonic, winning 6-4 6-4 6-4 with a masterly display of the grasscourt arts on Friday.
Chasing a record eighth title at the All England Club, Federer set up a mouthwatering final against top seed and 2011 champion Novak Djokovic with an almost casual demolition of the 23-year-old Canadian, who looked overawed by the magnitude of the occasion.
The 17-times grand slam champion broke in the opening game and then comfortably saw out the first set before breaking decisively in the ninth games of both the second and third sets, with his opponent unable to gain a foothold in the match.
Raonic, whose one weapon is his huge serve, came into the match with a gameplan that relied on pummeling the Swiss into submission.
Yet his explosive right arm faltered in the face of Federer’s relentless pressure game and his jab-jab-haymaker approach to rallies proved almost entirely ineffective as the fourth seed went through his frequently-rehearsed repertoire of strokes.
With little else to offer, he succumbed almost inevitably, with the largely lifeless encounter recalling memories of the 1990s, where each point ended in the blink of an eye.
The 32-year-old Swiss played most of the match at walking pace and finished off his opponent in one hour 41 minutes, clenching his fist in a restrained celebration when Raonic hit a backhand return wide on match point.
Having not reached a grand slam final since beating Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2012, Federer looked to be back in an imperious groove, that many thought had departed after he failed to get past the fourth round in three of the last four slams.
“I‘m unbelievably thrilled to be in another final,” said Federer, who has been in superb form on the grass this year after winning in Halle and motoring through the early rounds at Wimbledon.
”My game’s back where I hoped it would be from one year ago.
“Things were difficult all of last year, most of the year, so I‘m happy I worked hard off the court to get myself back into shape and back into contention for tournaments.”
There were flashes of the old genius, notably in the fourth game as he dispatched a forehand volley with such nonchalance that he barely broke into a jog in moving across the net to anticipate a rasping Raonic pass.
He faced one break point in the first set that he claimed in 34 minutes and then pulled up the drawbridge with a series of solid service games before effectively sealing the second set by stepping on the gas at 4-4.
A roar of “come on” greeted a backhand winner to bring up 0-30 and then he calmly walked back to his chair when a backhand winner sealed the break and a 5-4 lead that effectively sounded the death knell for Raonic’s hopes in the match.
The third set followed the same template with Federer moving through the gears to break for a 5-4 lead when Ranoic sent a forehand wide.
When he wrapped up the match, his understated celebration was that of a man who knows his storied career would benefit little from a runners-up trophy when the possibility of surpassing Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as the only man with eight singles titles remained up for grabs.
An old foe awaits in Sunday’s showpiece, but Federer is unlikely to be intimidated by Djokovic, against whom he holds an 18-16 winning record, having taken two of their last three encounters.
Their only meeting on grass came in 2012, when Federer won in four sets before going on to clinch the title.
“I think for me it’s really important to stay aggressive against him,” Federer said. “And especially here at Wimbledon... I think on grass it’s a bit more straightforward and I think we’re both aware of that.”
Editing by David Goodman and Clare Lovell