WIMBLEDON – To this point, this Wimbledon has seemed smooth and easy for Roger Federer.
Despite a lingering cold that had him blowing his nose on multiple changeovers during his semifinal victory over Tomas Berdych, he has appeared unruffled.
The 35-year-old Swiss has had a good draw, save perhaps for 2016 finalist Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals. And he won’t have to beat any combination of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray to win the title.
In fact, he won’t have to defeat any of them.
The scenario, as it has unfolded, couldn’t have been more ideal.
Only one man stands in his way in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And if he’s not a multiple Grand Slam champion like some of Federer’s other great rivals, at least he – not unlike Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday – knows what it’s like to win a major.
Cilic with the tougher road
Croatia’s Marin Cilic has arrived to his first Wimbledon singles final tried and tested.
He could have gone down to No. 16 Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the quarterfinals. And perhaps he might have, had Muller not had the five-set marathon against Rafael Nadal in his 34-year-old legs.
He could have been in danger against American Sam Querrey in the semi-finals. And perhaps he would have, had Querrey not played three consecutive five-set matches just to get there.
But that’s a Grand Slam. By the time the second week rolls around, the matches begin to accumulate and the victories are sometimes acquired as much with early-round efficiency and good draw luck as the actual tennis.
One stat that might make the difference: Federer has saved 16 of the 20 break points he has faced so far. Cilic has saved 14 of the 24 he has faced.
Relatively speaking, Cilic has faced fewer; he has 109 service games, to Federer’s 83. But that’s not a great save rate. Federer can he infamous, at times, for failing to convert break points. Unless we see a lot of tiebreaks, the match might come down to Cilic’s ability to improve on that save rate, versus Federer’s tendency to squander those opportunities.
Cilic has only beaten Federer once. But it’s most definitely a match the Swiss remembers. It came in the semifinal of the 2014 US Open.
The winner would play Kei Nishikori to win the title – one of those rare times in recent years – just like this year’s Wimbledon – that a major has not meant getting through a member of the Big Four.
But Cilic rolled to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory that day, and won his maiden major.
A year later, a different matchup
A year ago here, Federer was physically diminished. But he still found a way to come back from an 0-2 set deficit to defeat Cilic 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3. It was the 10th time Federer had come back from such a deep hole. But it showed when he played Raonic in the next round and ran just short on energy, losing that one in five.
The two are very different players a year later.
Federer is reenergized after the six-month break he took after last year’s Wimbledon and is arguably playing the best tennis of his career.
Cilic, always a quiet but consistent presence in the top 10 even if he’s not had another close sniff at a major title since that US Open, is also on top of his game.
But, as with Querrey in his semi-final match, will the miles logged show up in the final?
Federer has spent four minutes short of 10 hours on the court in six matches. Cilic has spent two minutes short of 14 1/2 hours – and 6 1/2 hours of those were expended in his last two matches.
A few stats
“Oldest-ever stats” for Federer
**If Federer wins, he’ll be the oldest man in the Open era to win Wimbledon. The record will be held by Aussie Ken Rosewall probably until time immemorial; Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open at 37 years, 62 days.
**If Federer wins, the five-year gap since his last Wimbledon title will be the second-longest in the Open era. Jimmy Connors won in 1974, and then not again until 1982. There were a couple of chaps named Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who stood in the way during those years.
**If Federer wins in straight sets, he’ll become just the third man in the Open era to win multiple majors without dropping a set. He has only done it once – at the 2007 Australian Open. Borg did it three times, as did Rafael Nadal at the French Open (including this year).
**The final today is Federer’s 102nd match at Wimbledon. It ties Connors, so obviously Federer will have to come back next year and break it. He played his 100th match at the Australian Open in the final this year. He needs 11 more at the US Open and 19 more at Roland Garros to complete the quadruple-centenary.
“Patience” stats for Cilic
**Cilic’s compatriot and former coach Goran Ivanisevic, one of only two other Croats to win Grand Slams (Iva Majoli is the other) won Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild card, in his 14th try. If Cilic wins, it will be on his 11th attempt. (Andy Murray needed eight, Novak Djokovic seven – but those two started awfully young).
**If Cilic wins, he’ll be the first player outside the so-called “Big Four” of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray” to win Wimbledon since 2002. Lleyton Hewitt won that year. He’s only the second player outside that exclusive group to even reach reach the final (along with Raonic) since Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych in the 2010 final.
**Cilic’s results in majors against top-five ranked players are not good. He’s 1-11 in his last 12 matches; the only victory was that win over Federer at the US Open.
**If Cilic wins, he’ll move to a new career high of No. 5 in the rankings. If Federer wins, he’ll jump from No. 5 to No. 3.
The oddsmakers in Great Britain have the match overwhelmingly in the seven-time champions’ favor. He’s at 1-6 to win it; Cilic has 4-1 odds.
(Stats and numbers from the ATP Tour)