History was routine as Federer gets Wimbledon No. 8

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WIMBLEDON – With his eighth ace of the match, Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon title Sunday.

He turns 36 on the eighth of next month, the eighth month of the year.

And with a game, but hobbled Marin Cilic on the other side of the net, it was the easiest final of his Wimbledon career.

The 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory took just an hour and 47 minutes.

He gave up … eight games. He also warmed up for the match on Court No. 8, if he needed more instances of his lucky number to get him over the top.

“Wimbledon was always my favorite tournament, will always be my favorite tournament. My heroes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here. Because of them, I think I became a better player, too. To mark history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me just because of all of that really. It’s that simple,” Federer said. 

“Funny enough, I didn’t think that much of it throughout today, throughout the trophy ceremony. I was more just so happy that I was able to win Wimbledon again because it’s been a long road, it’s been an exciting road. It’s been tough at times, but that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he added. “So to be Wimbledon champion for an entire year now is something I can’t wait, you know, to savor and just enjoy. So it was super special.”

Tears on both sides

Federer

If Federer shed some tears at the moment of victory, and again a little later as spotted the arrival of his four children in the player’s box, there were tears from Cilic, too.

Sadly, they were tears of a completely different kind.

The 28-year-old Croat was absolutely beside himself, sitting in his chair down a set and a service break and heaving huge sobs into his towel.

An extended changeover had Cilic attended to by a host of officials, but no one could console the Croat.

The physio, the tournament doctor and Grand Slam official Stefan Fransson surrounded him. But there was really nothing they could do for him.

Later, as Cilic took a medical timeout to have the ball of his left foot retaped, the picture became a little clearer. Cilic said he felt it – a big, oozing blister, to be graphic – during the semifinal win over Sam Querrey.

“Every time I had to do a reaction fast, fast change of movement, I was unable to do that. Obviously was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through last few months in preparation with everything. It was also tough because of my own team. They did so much for me. I just felt it was really bad luck,” Cilic said.

The medical staff tried to get some of the fluid out after the Querrey match. They even tried to numb the area with anaesthetic, but Cilic said the skin in that area was tough, and they weren’t able to completely numb it.

That sinking feeling

He probably didn’t get the best night’s sleep of his life, as a consequence. And he knew, as early as the warmup when he tested out changes of direction, that he was cooked.

The tears? “It was just emotionally that I knew on such a big day that I’m unable to play my best tennis, in physical, and in every single way,” Cilic said. “That was just a little bit combination of all emotions because I know how much it took for me to get here.”

It would take a heart of stone not to empathize with the gentle giant, who was in his first Wimbledon final and clearly knew that he wasn’t in shape to give it his very best, on the grandest stage in tennis.

Federer could not afford to empathize, though. He had a match to win.

As that changeover ended and umpire Damien Dumusois called “time”, Cilic was still sitting there, a towel over his head. Federer crossed the court right in front of him – not even giving him a sideways glance – and went out to finish the job.

If it seemed heartless, Federer couldn’t afford to take his eye off the ball for a single second. He had history to make.

And when you’re in that position, you can’t let anything or anyone distract you from the task at hand.

“I thought when he called the doctor first, I thought maybe he was dizzy or something. Because I couldn’t tell what it was, it actually made things easier. If I saw him limping around, or if I saw him pull up hurt in some place, I would start to think, Okay, maybe I’ll throw in a drop shot to really check him out, then want more, because that’s what you do,” he said, smiling. “You need to hurt him, you know, where it hurts already.

“Because I didn’t know and I couldn’t tell, I just said, ‘Focus on your game, focus on your match, keep playing’. The good thing is I was already in the lead.”

Sympathetic crowd helpless

The crowd tried to urge Cilic on. He continued with reddened eyes, the tears still coming. And because of the foot, he began trying to compete in any way he could.

But if Marin Cilic is serving and volleying to try to win a tennis match, his opponent has to know it’s just a matter of time.

Cilic, who like Federer has never retired in the middle of a match during his long career, didn’t quit.

“That’s what I did throughout my career, I never gave up. I gave my best, but that’s all I could do,” Cilic said on court.

“I had an amazing journey here, played the best tennis of my life. And I really want to thank my team; they gave so much strength to me … To all my fans in Croatia. It was really tough today, and I gave it all. I’m hoping I’m going to come back here and try it one more time.”

It’s the first time since 2012 that Federer has won Wimbledon. And he now is the only player ever to have won it eight times.

As much as the Australian Open title back in January was a surprise, after Federer was away for the game for six months trying to ensure he didn’t need a second knee surgery and taking one more deep breath, this one was a coronation.

He didn’t lose a set in seven matches on the way to the title, the first to do that since Bjorn Borg in 1976.

No free pass for Federer

The Swiss star’s great rivals were all on hand for this tournament; it’s not as though he jumped through cavernous holes in the draw.

But countryman Stan Wawrinka, who has won every major but this one, was out in the first round.

Rafael Nadal, the other top player in vintage form this season, had a big hiccup in the first two sets of his fourth-round match against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, and fell just short of a monstrous comeback.

Defending champion Andy Murray and three-time champion Novak Djokovic found themselves betrayed by their bodies.

So all the stars aligned for Federer during this edition of the Championships. And there’s a certain irony in that.

Since his last Wimbledon title in 2012, a common school of thought was that maybe Federer could win one more Slam, the 19th of his career. But everything would have to line up just perfectly. He would need some help from other players to perhaps get some of the other top contenders out of the way. And then, maybe, he could sneak one out.

The way he has been playing this season, it’s not a crazy notion to think that he wouldn’t even have needed any outside help to win this one. Still, in the gilded universe of Federer, he had the path smoothed for him anyway.

No points to defend

It’s a remarkable story, not only in tennis but also in sports. And as Federer exits the first half of the season he seems to be fresh, and healthy – and hungry for more.

“I hope this wasn’t my last match and I hope I can come back next year and defend the title,” Federer said on court.

Later, he clarified.

“Honestly, ever since I had the year I had last year, I do think probably like a year ahead of time, you know, with my schedule, fitness schedule, tournaments I would like to play. So I totally see myself playing here this time next year. But because it’s far away, because of what happened last year, I just like to take the opportunity to thank the people in the very moment, and make them understand, yes, I hope that I’m back. There’s never a guarantee, especially not at 35, 36,” he said. “But the goal is definitely to be here again next year to try and defend.”

Despite the reality that at his age, he’s far less impervious to injury and will need longer to recover from one, does anyone doubt it?

 

No. 8 for Federer – or No. 1 for Cilic?

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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.

Federer, when the grass was greener. He’s now on the other side. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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)

Wimbledon Day 11 – What to Watch

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WIMBLEDON – As the days wind down, the Wimbledon schedule gets lighter.

But each match becomes a must-watch. And the stakes get higher. 

The departure of defending champion and world No. 1 Andy Murray and three-time champion Novak Djokovic has left a big hole in the men’s singles draw. It also has created great opportunity.

There is no player ranked in the top four among the final four. It is not a long-awaited changing of the guard Nothing close to that. You have to ascribe the relatively early exits of both Djokovic and Murray to ongoing injuries that, at this point, seem to require more severe measures.

But it’s true nonetheless.

The last time this happened at a Grand Slam tournament was at 2003 Wimbledon. 

No. 5 Federer (who is No. 5 right now, 14 years later) met No. 6 Andy Roddick. And No. 14 Sébastian Grosjean of France met No. 48 Mark Philippoussis of Australia.

Nice road, but no guarantee

As well as Federer has been playing, it would be an insult to say that the three notable absences (add Rafael Nadal to that list) among the final four should make it a breeze for him to romp to his eighth Wimbledon title.

First of all, there’s no way to say, on current form, that he might not have been able to beat them regardless. 

But having to face No. 11 seed Tomas Berdych in Friday’s semifinal, rather than Djokovic, does have to make Federer’s eyes light up.

These two seem to meet on big occasions on a regular basis. Those occasions include Davis Cup, and the Olympics in both 2004 and 2008. They have met at the Australian Open the last two years (both straight-sets wins by Federer). Of their 24 meetings, eight have come in Slams.

Their last meeting was among their best; Berdych should have won it. He had two match points in the third-set tiebreak in Miami last March. Perhaps if his belief level against Federer were a little higher, he might have.

Shocking Berdych win

But of the six victories Berdych has in 24 attempts against Federer, one stands out: a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win in the 2010 Wimbledon quarter-finals.

We remember that one well – especially how absolutely chapped Federer was to lose as he made his way to the press conference room almost immediately after coming off the court.

It probably would have been a better idea to cool his jets in the locker room for 10 or 15 minutes before coming out.

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Cilic and Querrey went overtime back in 2012.

Federer didn’t have his usual wits about him for the first part of the press conference – the English part, so the part most of the planet saw.

He was definitely lacking in graciousness on that day, a surprising lapse in the Federer cool.

By the time he got to the French and German portions of the conference he had calmed down, and said more of the expected, “right” things.

Berdych went on to defeat No. 3 seed Djokovic in straight sets in the semifinals, before losing to Nadal in the final. That set of three matches and three incredibly difficult opponents in the late stages of a Grand Slam is a perfect illustration of why it has been so difficult for players outside the top four to win a big one in recent years.  

That win came in the middle of a nice little run for the Czech against Federer. He had nearly beaten him at the 2009 Australian Open; he was up two sets to none before Federer came back to take it in five. And he had beaten him in 8-6 in a third-set tiebreak in Miami. A few weeks after that Wimbledon win, he lost another third-set tiebreak against Federer in Toronto.

Federer, though, has won their last seven meetings. And as well as Berdych has played this Wimbledon – rather under the radar – the belief will all be on the other side of the court.

Battle of the giants

As for the other semifinal, it will be contested between two gentle giants who are figuring out the beast mode thing in the latter stages of their careers.

Then again, Marin Cilic is 28. American Sam Querrey is 29. Both are listed at 6-foot-6. These days, in men’s tennis, that’s barely middle age, and that’s only a few inches about the Tour’s average height. With Berdych at 6-foot-5, the 6-foot-1 Federer must feel like the little brother of the gang.

Querrey will likely match his career-high ranking of No. 17 if he wins this one. That came all the way back in 2011; it has taken him this long to approach that territory again. 

These two have a fascinating history, on some levels. They have only met four times on the ATP Tour. But three of those have come on grass. And two of those have come at Wimbledon.

Cilic has won all of them. But it couldn’t have been much closer.

Their meeting in the third round in 2009 went 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 6-7 (4), 6-4. Their meeting in the third round in 2012 went 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15.

Wimbledon resumé solid

Querrey’s Wimbledon resumé is underrated. He plays well here, and he usually only loses to good players. In 2011, he lost to Murray in the fourth round. In 2012, before losing to Cilic, he beat Vasek Pospisil (the 2014 doubles champion) and Milos Raonic (last year’s finalist) back to back. He lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 14-12 in the fifth set in 2013, to Federer in 2015 and to eventual finalist Raonic last year.

After some early stumbles on the grass, Cilic lost to Djokovic in 2014 and 2016, and in five sets to Federer last year in the quarter-finals.

He also is the only semi-finalist, except for Federer, who has a Grand Slam title.

All of which to say, that first semi-final may take awhile. So Federer and Berdych may have to be prepared for a wait.

Also on the schedule Friday are the semi-finals in both the mixed doubles and women’s doubles.

RG men’s quarters almost true to form

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ROLAND GARROS – Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed at the French Open, played spoilsport in what turned out to be a true-to-form final eight.

The Canadian was upset, 8-6 in the fifth set after four hours and 17 minutes, by No. 20 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round on Sunday.

But the other seven top seeds made it. And along with Carreño Busta, they make up a top-quality, if predictable, elite eight bracket.

Which is not to say that they all arrived here in thoroughly predictable fashion.

Here’s a look at their twists and turns through the first week of the tournament.

No. 1 – Andy Murray

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Murray was in good spirits before the tournament began, and might even have avoided chiding coach Ivan Lendl for wearing the same way-too-big polo shirt two days in a row (he really did). (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The top seed went about it all bass-ackwards. He lost sets to players he probably shouldn’t have (Andrey Kuznetsov, Martin Klizan) and didn’t lose sets to players he maybe could have (Juan Martin del Potro, the powerful Russian Karen Khachanov).

But along the way the Brit appeared to rebuild some of the confidence lost along the way this season – just in time for the pointy end of the tournament.  

He even managed to make jokes!

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [8] Kei Nishikori

No. 2 – Novak Djokovic

Much was made of the new face in Team Nole, as Andre Agassi arrived with great fanfare shortly before the tournament began. 

Agassi is reportedly gone now, but promises to be back when and if Djokovic needs him. While he was here, he watched Djokovic navigate some pretty good players routinely. Except for Diego Schwartzman.

The Argentine was right in there until his body failed him in the late going of their five-setter in the third round. He even led two sets to one. With Djokovic’s up-and-down results this season, it would have been an unlikely upset, but by no means an impossible one.

Whether his earlier rounds – he had, by most measures, a good draw – were enough preparation for what his quarter-final opponent will bring to the table is a question that will be answered on Court Suzanne Lenglen Tuesday.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [6] Dominic Thiem

No. 3 – Stan Wawrinka

The only big (Swiss) cheese in the draw this year with the absence of Roger Federer, Wawrinka’s season has been below his standards. But while it’s a cliché to say a player peaks for the Grand Slams, the 32-year-old REALLY peaks for the Slams. Which probably is why he’s won three of them, including this one.

Wawrinka faced two of the more dangerous lower seeds in the tournament in Fabio Fognini and Gaël Monfils, and got through both in straight sets. Again with Fognini, the body didn’t cooperate.

Against Monfils on Monday, everyone was hoping for a blockbuster. But these two good friends made it more like a fun match for beers in their local Swiss public park. 

When it was over, Wawrinka looked as though he almost felt badly that Monfils couldn’t put up more resistance. He knows more than most that his great friend, at 30 but with a fragile body, won’t have many more chances to make a deep run at his home-country Slam.

“It was a mentally exhausting match, I think. We were both tense. And we know each other so well. We knew how important it was, for him or for me, to play well,” Wawrinka said.

On the worrisome side, the Swiss star’s back locked up from the beginning of the match. It’s what he calls the most fragile part of his body, always managed but never worry-free.

 

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [7] Marin Cilic

No. 4 – Rafael Nadal

It appeared the nine-time French Open champion was back for real in 2017 after a great start to the season. But who knew to what extent?

His French Open prep was vintage, although stubbornly deciding to play Rome despite already having won three titles looked like a bad call when he was on fumes by the quarterfinals. He lost to Dominic Thiem there, after beating him twice earlier in the clay-court season.

Raonic, slotted to be his quarter-final opponent, might have posed a few more challenges than Nadal’s young countryman Carreño Busta. Nadal is pretty much money when he’s playing fellow Spaniards. And Carreño Busta is coming off a draining, emotional marathon win while Nadal is fresh as a margarita amarilla.

Fitness for battle: 11

Quarter-final opponent: [20] Pablo Carreño Busta

No. 6 – Dominic Thiem

With his efforts during the spring clay season, and with fellow youngster Alexander Zverev winning Rome, it figured these two would be in the mix in the second week in Paris.

But Zverev flamed out in the first round against Fernando Verdasco. And so it was left to Thiem to make his seed. He did so very much under the radar, without dropping a set and ceding more than four games in only two of the 12 sets he played. 

Had he faced David Goffin in the fourth round, rather than Horacio Zeballos, Thiem might have been tested more. But Goffin’s nasty ankle injury, suffered in the first set against Zeballos, took him out.

In the quarter-finals, we’ll find out if he has a Plan B, after getting just one game against Novak Djokovic in the Rome semi-final a few weeks ago. On the plus side, he won’t have to play him the day after he has to play Nadal.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [2] Novak Djokovic

No. 7 – Marin Cilic

With Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem all in the final eight, no one is talking about Marin Cilic.

He’s used to that – especially in Paris, where he is a quarter-finalist for the first time in his career a year after losing in the first round, to No. 166-ranked Marco Trungelliti of Argentina.

Cilic has had a sweet draw, and hasn’t lost more than three games in any set. He caught a break in the fourth round Monday as opponent Kevin Anderson retired in the middle of the second set due to injury.

The last time Cilic faced Anderson was in the third round of the 2014 US Open. For what it’s worth, he won the tournament.

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [3] Stan Wawrinka

No. 8 – Kei Nishikori

In the third round, Nishikori caught a break when rain came to suspend his match with the younger, bigger, stronger Hyeon Chung of South Korea. When play resumed Sunday, Nishikori still looked dead on his feet, his stiff back  – or something – limiting his movement to a major degree.

Somehow, he got through that one.

Then on Monday, he faced Fernando Verdasco and looked basically the same in losing the first set 6-0. Somehow, he warmed up the body parts and got through that one as well. Let’s face it, though, he got help from Verdasco.

This is kind of the story of Nishikori’s career; his inability to keep his body as strong as his will has held him back from … who knows what?

Fitness for battle: 3

Quarter-final opponent: [1] Andy Murray

And, finally, the outlier

No. 20 – Pablo Carreño Busta

No one gives the 25-year-old a shot against his much-decorated compatriot in the quarter-finals. Maybe not even the Carreño Busta family, for all we know.

The man himself said after his win over Raonic that if he didn’t think he had a shot, he wouldn’t take the court. He might get his behind kicked, he might pull off a miracle. But he can’t ask for more than playing the clay GOAT and his good friend on a big stadium court in the French Open quarter-finals.

Hopefully his family, who had to leave to catch a flight back to Spain in the third set of his match against Raonic, will fly back to see this one.

Fitness for battle: 5

Quarter-final opponent: [4] Rafael Nadal

Nadal vs. Carreño Busta is on Court Philippe Chatrier Tuesday, while Djokovic vs. Thiem is on Court Suzanne Lenglen. You have to think the champion is going to come out of that group.

Nishikori vs. Murray and Wawrinka vs. Cilic will be Wednesday, with far less fanfare.