It’s been 140 years since the first Wimbledon final was contested, and it’s safe to say a lot has changed in that time. Whether it’s the rules, equipment, technique or training, much looks different about today’s game, but one thing hasn’t changed: this is the biggest match of the season.
This year it is Roger Federer and Marin Cilic who will have the fortune of playing it, and despite the 17-major difference in their trophy cabinet, both are looking for a piece that could define their career. It’s an absolutely tantalising matchup, and one that begs to be dissected, so read on for a preview of the 2017 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final.
For the GOAT Roger Federer, a win here would be as important situationally as it would be historically. Not only would it move him back four ahead of Rafael Nadal in the all-time count, but it would place him firmly in the hunt with Rafa for the year-end no. 1 ranking – incredible for a nearly-36-year-old.
For Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, it is a chance at ascending to that next level of sporting immortality – to be a grand slam winner is one thing, but to be a multiple-time victor puts him in a far more exclusive club. Furthermore, after so many years as a talent unrealised, there would be no doubting his staying power at the top of the game.
As with so many things about these two, the lead-in to this match could not be more different. Federer is yet to drop a set, having breezed through a collection of dangerous players with legitimate grass-court chops that extends back to Mischa Zverev in the third round. Cilic’s list of scalps is similarly impressive, but he’s had to a harder time collecting them, having gone five against Gilles Muller and four against Sam Querrey. Also Cilic has already lost once on grass this season, in the final at Queen’s to Feliciano Lopez, whereas Federer is undefeated having already won the title in Halle.
Federer and Cilic have played seven times before, with the Swiss having won six of them. That said, all three since Cilic made “the leap” in 2014 have been a very interesting story – a 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 win for Federer in Toronto 2014, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 destruction job by Cilic in the 2014 US Open semifinals, and a 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 rabbit-out-of-the-hat performance for Federer last year in the Wimbledon quarters. Simply put: Cilic has been a major headache for the Swiss.
The reason for this isn’t anything special – Cilic plays a quintessential brand of power tennis, and has served superbly in those matches, giving him the freedom to take massive cuts at the Federer serve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Bob from Wollongong, if the other guy is belting the cover off the ball and keeping it in the court, you’re gonna have a bad time. To Cilic’s credit it helps he has more feel around the court than most sluggers, and is capable of working his way into rallies with depth as much as pace.
Still, it’s a tricky question as to whether or not he’s got enough against this Federer. No, he’s not quite the force he was in his 20’s, but the Roger of the semis and (especially) the quarters was on another level to any he was at between 2013 and 2016. Also compared to their match here last year, Federer is certainly moving better with his knee injury well behind him, and has already proved he can handle extreme pace on this grass… and oh yeah, his shot making is still brilliant.
The other factor in this matchup that can’t be discounted is the mental edge, which definitely favours Federer. Not only has Federer been here a bajillion times before, but nerves have cost Cilic in the past – he tightened-up considerably in the fourth and fifth sets against Federer last year – and while if we get the fearless Cilic of the 2014 USO it won’t matter so much, it’s hard to see how they don’t make an appearance.
Federer in Four. There’s really no outcome to this match that is off the table – from Cilic in straights to Federer 71-69 in the fifth – but what we’ve seen so far suggests Federer is peaking at the right time, and that makes him an near-unstoppable force. Cilic’s serve is sure to play its part, but when it’s all over, expect Federer to lift his record eighth Wimbledon trophy.