LONDON: Five years after his last Wimbledon triumph, Roger Federer can capture a record eighth All England Club title Sunday and become the tournament’s oldest men’s champion of the modern era. With his 36th birthday fast approaching, the evergreen Swiss will comfortably succeed Arthur Ashe, who was almost 32 when he won in 1975, as Wimbledon’s most senior champion. Victory over Croatian giant Marin Cilic will also give him a 19th career Grand Slam title and second in three majors this year after sweeping to a fifth Australian Open in January following a six-month absence. “I was hoping to be in good shape when the grass court season came around,” said Federer who, for good measure, also pocketed back-to-back Masters at Indian Wells and Miami as well as a ninth Halle grass court crown.
“The first three, four months were just like a dream really. So this is something I was working towards, you know, Wimbledon, to be in good shape. I’m happy it’s paying off here now.” Federer admits his form in 2017 has surprised even himself after he shut down his 2016 season to rest a knee injury in the aftermath of his brutal five-set semi-final loss at Wimbledon to Milos Raonic. He has 30 wins and just two losses this year and he has reached his 11th Wimbledon final without dropping a set.
‘Unbelievably excited’: Sunday’s match will be his 102nd at the tournament and his 29th final at the majors. “It makes me really happy, making history here at Wimbledon. It’s a big deal. I love this tournament,” said Federer, who has been tied with Pete Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles since beating Andy Murray in the 2012 final. “All my dreams came true here as a player. To have another chance to go for number eight now, be kind of so close now at this stage, is a great feeling. “Yeah, unbelievably excited. I hope I can play one more good match. 11 finals here, all these records, it’s great. I’m so close now.”
While ‘Big Four’ rivals Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal failed to even make the semi-finals, Federer has been reborn. He came into Wimbledon having radically pruned his playing schedule, skipping the entire clay court season. Wimbledon is just his seventh event of the year; 28-year-old Cilic is in his 15th. Federer, revelling in the spotlight of having played all his matches on Centre Court, has hardly been troubled on his way to the final.
He has lost serve just four times and spent four and a half hours less on court than Cilic. Federer also boasts a 6-1 career record over Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion who has made his first Wimbledon final at the 11th attempt. However, Cilic’s game is made for grass and 12 months ago he led Federer by two sets to love and held three match points in an epic quarter-final which the Swiss superstar eventually claimed.
‘Roger’s home court’: When Cilic won his only Slam in New York three years ago, he demolished Federer in straight sets in the semi-finals. “I don’t want to say it’s more relaxed going into it because I have a good head-to-head record against Marin, even though the matches were extremely close,” said Federer. “But it’s not like we’ve played against each other 30 times. You feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. “It’s more straightforward, in my opinion. I think that’s nice in some ways. It’s a nice change, but it doesn’t make things easier.” Cilic is only the second Croatian man to reach the Wimbledon final after Goran Ivanisevic, his former coach, who swept to a memorable title victory in 2001. A win on Sunday would also make him the first Wimbledon champion outside of Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Nadal since Lleyton Hewitt triumphed in 2002.
However, he has only won one of his last 12 matches against a top five player at the Slams, even if that was over Federer in New York three years ago. Cilic has fired 130 aces at Wimbledon this year and dropped just 10 service games. “This is Roger’s home court, the place where he feels the best and knows that he can play the best game,” said Cilic. “Obviously I’m going to look back, 12 months ago I was one point away from winning a match against him here. But it’s still a big mountain to climb.”
Published in Daily Times, July 16th , 2017.