Marin Cilic was not meant to be a Wimbledon finalist. His half of the draw was dominated by a resurgent Rafa Nadal and home favourite Andy Murray, but Cilic took advantage of his good fortune to book his first Wimbledon final appearance this weekend. He had never even made it to the semi-finals before this year’s heroics, in fact.
He faces the greatest tennis player of all time in the shape of Roger Federer. The elegant Swiss has been playing at almost his best ever level, even if it took perseverance and grit to make it past Tomas Berdych in the semi-final as well as his usual majestic ground strokes and unfaltering serve. Federer has played fewer than the minimum sets to get to the final – thanks to his opponent having to retire through injury in the first round. Fatigue or creaking joints are now concern for the 35-year-old master, who has clearly benefited enormously from his period of rest prior to Wimbledon.
Cilic – who is the seventh seed – fired down 25 aces in his serve-off with the towering American, Sam Querrey. Though the Croatian dropped the first set, he proved too much of a force for Querrey, as he outscored him by 146 points to 119. The 28-year-old was embroiled in a five set quarter-final with Gilles Muller, but eventually pulled away in the final set too. He may only be a beneficiary of the slip ups for Nadal and Murray, but Cilic’s massive serve can dampen even the greats.
When it comes to the pressure of Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Sunday, though, there’s one man who knows it better than any other. Seven-time champion Federer has made the famous stage his tennis home, and Cilic – whose forays into the latter rounds of Grand Slams are infrequent – will be far from his comfort zone. One benefit for the Croatian, however, is that with the weight of expectation on Federer, he can play an almost pressure-free game.
How does that affect the odds for Wimbledon final? Federer is at 2/11 to be Wimbledon champion for a record eighth time. Few can live with Federer on his day – and those that can are long gone in this year’s Wimbledon. Cilic’s hope relies on Federer having a rare off-day, which could leave the door ajar for the outsider. Getting his serve as dominant as it was in the semi-final and taking advantage of each sniff of a break is Cilic’s potential route to victory. Even if he can force tie breaks, one can’t help but favour Federer in the clutch moment.
Finding a way past Federer and his adoring Wimbledon faithful will be the greatest challenge of CIlic’s career. It would be one of Wimbledon’s greatest ever final shocks, and could mean we never see the genius on Centre again.