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
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.
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?