Fourth seeded Canadian Milos Raonic aced his way past World No. 10 Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-4, to set up a title clash with top seed Janko Tipsarevic who ended the dream run of Japanese qualifier Go Soeda 6-1, 6-4, in the Aircel Chennai Open on Saturday.
Raonic, the 20-year old ranked 31, slammed 17 aces that sent the second seeded Spaniard Almagro reeling to defeat in 72 minutes while the ninth ranked Serb Tipsarevic survived a strong second set challenge from Soeda who showed the strain of having played some tough matches over the past week.
Yet to drop a set in the tournament, Raonic was all but unstoppable on a night when he consistently clocked 200 kmph on serves that he fired at the Spaniard who simply had no defence and was always under pressure. Though Almagro did well enough to stay the course, but missed three breakpoints in the second that ended his fight.
Raonic, winner of the ATP Newcomer of the Year award last year when he moved up from 152 to 25 and then to year-end 31 after taking two months off due to a hip surgery, hit the right length from the start and blazed away with powerful groundstrokes.
In contrast, the 26-year old Almagro appeared rather tame and though he occasionally came up with some great winners on a surface that is not his favourite, he yielded ground in the face of Raonic's relentless onslaught.
The Canadian showcased his awesome serves especially in the eighth game of the first set when he sent down four consecutive 215 kmph-plus aces.
Raonic took the first set on a break of serve in the seventh game. In the second set, games went to serve until the ninth when the Spaniard was broken. Almagro had his best chance to stay in the match when he had three breakpoints in the 10th, but could not convert any.
Down 15-40, Raonic blasted a 221 kmph ace followed by a forehand winner for deuce, but a long forehand put Almagro in front. Again, Raonic uncorked an ace at 217 kmph, followed by two more big serves clocking 189 kmph and 217 kmph to wrap up the match.
"There was nothing wrong with my game. He played better tennis and served better. He is obviously one of the best hard court players in the world today," said Almagro who could barely hide his disappointment.
Raonic admitted that his service games made all the difference as the ease with which he held serve put pressure on the opponent.
"I struggled a bit strategically, but I created opportunities on return and took care of my serve and it all came together. I am happy to get the job done," said Raonic who grew up on hard courts and it showed against Almagro.
"I grew up on hard courts and so it is easy for me, but I focus on what I need to do to win and not the surface. Here, the court is a bit slow, but I got the bounce, the direction and precision," he said.
The second semi-final was almost a mismatch with Soeda, ranked 120, appeared overawed by the occasion as was playing on the Centre Court for the first time in a week. He was blown away in the first set, but showed some spunk in the second.
Tipsarevic was a class apart and played a near flawless tennis in the first set that he took on two breaks of serve, but had to contend with some fight in the second. The Serb broke Soeda in the fifth while the Japanese responded with a break back in the sixth, but dropped serve in the seventh as Tipsarevic took control to wrap up the match in 79
The results (semi-finals): 4-Milos Raonic (CAN) bt 2-Nicolas Almagro (ESP) 6-4, 6-4; 1-Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) bt Q-Go Soeda (JPN) 6-1, 6-4.