SPORTS

Canada's Milos Raonic defeats Tomas Berdych in semifinals at Paris Masters

11/01/2014 11:55 EDT | Updated 01/01/2015 05:59 EST
PARIS - Canada's Milos Raonic has already shown this week that he can beat a member of the so-called Big Three.

He'll get a chance to do it again in Sunday's final of the Paris Masters.

Raonic, who defeated second-ranked Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, topped Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the semifinals on Saturday. Next up is top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who defeated Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-3 in the other semifinal.

The seventh-seeded Canadian entered the tournament with an 0-14 career record against Djokovic (0-3), Federer (now 1-6) and third-ranked Rafael Nadal (0-5). Raonic was at his hard-serving best against Federer and didn't let up against the fifth-seeded Berdych.

The world No. 10 sees room for improvement and is aiming for big things this month and down the road.

"I definitely think I can do a lot better than I'm doing now," he said. "If you asked me in 2008 when I turned pro, I would have said I would be happy to have a consistent top-50 career. When I broke through and got to top 150 I would have said, 'It would be nice to crack (the) top 10 and be consistently top 50.'

"Things are changing as I go. I'm learning a lot more about myself, a lot more about my potential, what I believe I can do and how I need to do it."

Raonic picked up a break in the final game against Berdych to complete the victory in two hours eight minutes.

"It's great, I played another very good match today," Raonic said. "I had some difficulties there at certain aspects of the match. But I was able to find solutions, I was fortunate with that. I think I played some good tennis, so I'm ready for the challenges ahead."

Trailing 5-6 in the deciding set, Berdych needed to hold serve to set up a tiebreaker. Instead he wobbled with two double-faults and two more unforced errors, the second coming on a baseline shot that found the net.

"It was generous," Raonic said. "I was not getting to the break-point opportunities, but a few of the games at the end I think I was getting a few points into the service games. In a very uncharacteristic way, he sort of just gave me a big opening and I did good enough to make the most of it.

"I know my game starts from holding my serve, so starting the third set I put a very heavy emphasis on focusing on that and simplifying my game as much as possible."

Berdych smashed his racket on the court in frustration after his final error. Raonic, meanwhile, pumped his fist and let out a celebratory roar.

"There is not much to say, I just totally messed it up with the last game," said Berdych. "It was definitely the worst game I ever played here (at) this tournament this year. That's what decides it and what makes it feel bad.

"You have days like this that when things are going well, at the last moment everything is gone."

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., had 12 aces and converted two of three break-point opportunities. Berdych had seven aces and broke Raonic once in four tries.

The Canadian, who improved to 3-1 lifetime against Berdych, has won six ATP Tour titles over his career but is still looking to break through at the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level.

He'll have his hands full with Djokovic, who needed just 62 minutes to eliminate Nishikori.

"I rely on my return, it's one of the elements in my game that has served me well throughout my entire career," Djokovic said. "That will probably be a key shot tomorrow, trying to get as many returns back in play and get into the rallies with Milos."

Djokovic, who beat Raonic twice on clay this season, acknowledged the faster indoor hardcourt may help the Canadian.

"I don't think it's a very pleasurable experience when you're playing against somebody who serves 220, 230 kilometres (an hour) regularly."

"I haven't dropped a set," Djokovic added. "And I feel confident about my game as much as he does about his game, so it's going to be definitely a good final.

Raonic's strong performance this week also helped him lock up a spot in the season-ending ATP Finals.

"Every goal that I set this year would be leading to me being in the finals in London," he said. To be able to achieve that is very special. It means a lot.

"The opportunity ahead with all the matches that will be coming up tomorrow and then the following 15 days, it's about making the most of that and going out there and trying to find a way to win as much as possible."

Raonic ended an 11-month title drought last August with his first victory at a World Tour 500-level event in Washington. He defeated Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil in the first men's singles final between Canadians in the Tour's Open era.

Raonic reached a career-high No. 6 in the world rankings the following week but has since slipped a few positions.

He has made strides at the Grand Slam level this season. Raonic reached his first French Open quarter-final before falling to Djokovic and went one round further at Wimbledon before losing to Federer in the semifinals.

Raonic reached his first Masters 1000 final last year at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He lost to Nadal in the final.

"This is a guy we need to watch for the future," Berdych said of Raonic. "He's slowly proving that he's going to be really a tough player with all the weapons that he has.

"He's been in a tough situation all this week and he handled it well."

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