By Jane Voigt
These were tough matches. But nothing comes easily this deep at Wimbledon.
Marin Cilic’s ‘mean’ face and tennis were immediately locked and loaded. The Croatian seven-seed seemed to channel Gandalf The Grey’s ‘You shall not pass’ dictum from Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. Cilic being Gandalf to Sam Querrery’s fiery thing that’s determined to sizzle those Hobbits yet fails and falls to its own death … as did Sam 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5.
“I’m a nice guy on the court,” Cilic told the press, as reported by Ubitennis. “People tell me to be more arrogant and aggressive on court. But I’m of quiet nature.”
His ‘quiet nature’ fooled most of the folks inside Centre Court. When he closed the match, his roar sounded as mighty as a bear’s.
“I’m proud of my mental toughness,” he continued. “The level was unbelievable, mentally really good.”
At the start of the fourth set Querrey was up a break and the score stood at 40-30, Querrey. Cilic clipped the line with a well-placed forehand, evening the score. At that moment, he raised his Head racquet up to his face, as if he would kiss the frame. He shook it, his friend in combat, then muttered something. Cilic looked young, hopeful, that one point seeming to carry the weight of the match. Cilic didn’t win that game, yet the moment captured his drive, dedication and aspirations for the day.
“I didn’t see anybody in the Royal Box,” he said. “I was too focused on my game.”
In his 11th appearance at Wimbledon, the six-foot-six Cilic has now entered his second major final, becoming the tallest finalist at The All England Club in the Open Era. If he prevails over Federer on Sunday, he’ll be 2-0 in finals, having won The U. S. Open in 2014.
But Federer will be a huge obstacle to reaching that dream.
“Roger is playing one of the best tennis of his career,” Cilic added. “I will be ready. When I think of his game it fits the grass so perfectly. So fluid, natural and fast.”
Federer may disagree with that observation, considering how cranky he was on court today in his victory over Tomas Berdych, 7-6(6), 7-6(3), 6-4. Playing tiebreaks is a risky proposition when facing a big server like Berdych. Federer tried to stem the tide in the second set, going up a break but quickly lost the advantage. Yet in the 6th game of the last set Federer’s engines revved to maximum.
He went down 0-40, a do or die situation. If he lost the game Berdych would more than likely win the set, take control, and, perhaps, extend the match to four or five sets.
But no … Federer rattled off an ace, another ace, a service winner, and one last ace to stay on serve. Soon he broke, avoiding yet another tiebreak incident.
“I tried going to the net, but he gives you nothing,” Berdych said. “No mistakes. He always controls the game.”
This final will be Federer’s 11th in a span of 15 years. He hasn’t dropped a set the entire tournament. He’ll be 36 mid-August.
“The guy isn’t slowing down at all,” Berdych continued. “[He] doesn’t seem he’s getting older. He’s playing his absolute best tennis right now.”
“I’m happy I have a day off tomorrow,” Federer said.
Federer did not face any of his Big-Four compatriots, in reaching the final, an asterisk that could attach itself in the history books.
“I almost can’t believe it’s true,” Federer told the BBC, right after his victory. “Thank you to the tournament for always putting me on Centre Court.”
Federer’s year resembles that from a decade ago when no one could touch him. He’s won The Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, and Halle … a 9th title there.
“i was totally surprised by the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami,” Federer said. “[Those were] like a dream. Now this is something I was working for, the goal was Wimbledon.”
Cilic and Federer met in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year. Cilic was up two sets and Federer stormed back only to lose in the semifinal to Milos Raonic. Prior to that meeting, Cilic and Federer faced off in the semifinals of the 2014 U. S. Open. Cilic was on another planet that day and ripped Federer’s game apart in three sets. Then, Cilic won the title.
“He’s a great guy,” Federer said of Cilic, to the BBC. “I know him really well. He crushed me at the U. S. Open a few years ago. I hope it’s not like that again.”
Both semifinals today could be categorized as throwback Wimbledon tennis, especially the match between Cilic and Querrey. Cilic hit 25 aces and Sam, 13. There weren’t any break points until the second set. Average rallies were under 10 shots. It was truly ‘bang-bang’ tennis from the era of Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek and Mark Philippoussis.
With the hot weather and sun baking down on Centre Court expect big serving from Cilic on Sunday, again. For Federer … look for him to upset Cilic’s balance and rhythm. With his experience as his asset in the pocket, we might see more history from him — his eighth and unprecedented Wimbledon crown and his 19th overall Grand Slam.
“I feel very privileged to be in another final,” Federer said.