“He crushed me at the US Open a few years ago. I hope he doesn’t play that good.”
That was Roger Federer, chatting to the BBC after coming off court following a straight-sets dismissal of Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.
He was referring to Marin Cilic, who a few hours earlier had ended the run of Sam Querrey to reach his first ever Wimbledon final.
When the four semifinalists were set at the All England Club on Friday, Federer towered above the other contenders on every conceivable metric. Experience. Match wins. Titles. Prize money. Profile. Stature. And that was just at Wimbledon – it wasn’t including all the other accolades, records and statistics he’d compiled at the other majors and Masters events.
Yet of those three other contenders remaining in the tournament, Cilic was the one who gave Federer the most reason to be wary.
Federer – who straight-setted seeds Mischa Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Berdych in his last four matches – will line up against the Croat in Sunday’s final, gunning for an eighth Wimbledon crown.
“Of course I’m going to try to play within myself. I have to play offensive myself. If you give Marin now time on the ball, he can finish points nicely,” Federer said. “The court is still playing quite fast. It helps on my serve, but it also helps him. I’m sure it’s going to be a close match.”
Federer takes a 6-1 head-to-head record into the final, but when looking at the last three meetings, it’s hardly been a tale of dominance.
Cilic held three match points against the Swiss on the very same court in last year’s quarterfinals; in the meeting before that, he swatted Federer aside in that semifinal Federer referenced on the march to his one and only Grand Slam title at the 2014 US Open. They also met a few weeks before that at the ATP Canada Masters, a match in which Cilic was also in the hunt before Federer scraped to a 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-4 victory.
On Saturday morning, the bookies reportedly had Federer at $1.22 to Cilic’s $5.30. But that discrepancy seems to have completely disregarded what Cilic can do on a good day. And he’s been having plenty of those at the All England Club this fortnight, successes built on a powerful serve and fluid, linear groundstrokes perfectly suited to grasscourt tennis.
“Definitely it’s great for me to be in the final of a Grand Slam again. Felt that my level of tennis in last several weeks is really on a high level, and that has given me a lot of consistency with my mindset,” said Cilic, who has dropped just two sets in six matches en route to the decider.
“Now looking ahead, obviously it’s going to be a big match for me. But it’s great thing that I have already played one Grand Slam final, and I believe it’s going to be easier to prepare.
“It would mean absolutely a world to me. I feel that when I won the US Open in ’14, it just opened so many possibilities in my mind for the rest of my career. To be able to do it again would definitely mean, I would say, even more because I know how much it meant for me to win that first one.
“It would be absolutely a dream come true to win Wimbledon here.”
For Federer, the same sentiment rings true. Although he already has seven trophies here, he geared his entire season around winning another, skipping the claycourt swing – including Roland Garros – to ensure maximum freshness for another tilt at a Wimbledon title.
In a record 11th final, he’ll aim for a record eighth title, separating him from amateur era champion William Renshaw and Open Era superstar Pete Sampras, both of whom own seven.
“It makes me really happy, marking history here at Wimbledon. It’s a big deal. I love this tournament. All my dreams came true here as a player,” Federer said.
“To have another chance to go for number eight now, be kind of so close now at this stage, is a great feeling. Unbelievably excited.
“I hope I can play one more good match. Eleven finals here, all these records, it’s great. But it doesn’t give me the title quite yet. That’s why I came here this year.
“I’m so close now, so I just got to stay focused.”
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