July 6, 2016
Simply breathtaking! How does Roger Federer keep doing it? Where did those sparkling forehands come from, the ones that helped to break Marin Cilic one last time, after he had saved three match points?
The ace that finished the fifth set 6-3 and booked Federer a semi-final spot against Milos Raonic was struck so sweetly that you wondered where his best tennis had been hiding early in this truly epic match.
Federer admitted: ‘It was an incredible match. A lot happened out there, he is such a wonderful player. I knew I was in so much trouble in the third and fourth. I wasn’t seeing his serve, I wasn’t reading it.
‘You hope it will change but you don’t know. It was about staying in the match. I feel sorry for Marin, he is a great guy.’
How did Marin Cilic snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, when he seemed to be the better player on the day for so long, was two sets up and had three break points at 3-3 and 0-40 in the third?
Willpower, brilliance and frayed nerves did battle to create an unforgettable tennis treat at sunny Wimbledon.
The legendary Federer showed all the fighting spirit of a true champion to overcome his own imperfections on a day of pure drama on Centre Court.
He saved all those match points and he refused to let his dream of an eighth Wimbledon title die, even when it appeared to have slipped through his fingers forever.
When Federer pulled a forehand wide in the fourth-set tie-break, and then spooned a backhand wide too, you wondered whether he had come to the end of the road.
Not so. A looping Federer backhand was called out but he challenged -and it turned out that a tiny fraction of the ball had caught the line. Suddenly he led 5-3 in the breaker. Moments later he had two set points at 6-4.
Another wild forehand from a man so famous for his self-control, a sizzling Cilic serve and the opportunity for 2-2 in sets was gone, temporarily at least.
Cilic had a third match point but still couldn’t close out. An amazing battle of reflexes up close to the net saw Federer come out on top and then it was Roger who had another set point. Marin passed him to survive.
His nerves jangling, Cilic served a double fault. Federer had a fourth set point on his own serve but netted during the rally. By now we were at 9-9.
Cilic blasted a forehand wide with Roger on the ropes and Federer had earned yet another set point. The Croatian buckled and found the net. Centre Court went wild. Once again, Federer was producing something special. Yet he should have been dead and buried.
Cilic almost had victory in the bag when he had those three break points at 3-3 in the third. And then He made a big mistake. He allowed himself to think. He let in the thought that he was nearly there – or at least he would be if he could just win one more point to secure that break.
It is never a good idea to allow yourself to see the finishing line before you are there. It tightens the muscles, puts extra weight on the shoulders, confuses the mind.
As one break point after another slipped away, the crowd went wild. ‘I picked up a half-volley but it could have gone out and that would probably have been it,’ admitted Roger later.
Suddenly Federer was shouting at the end of each exchange, urging himself on. It worked. He survived what should have been his final crisis.
Riding the fresh wave of adrenalin, Federer poured on the pressure and promptly completed the break he had sought all match.
A clever service game and he was back in the quarter-final, having won the third set 6-3. Could Federer come back from two sets down to complete the Houdini act?
Cilic had two more break points while 2-1 up in the fourth. Again he squandered them, seemingly starting to panic inside. Roger promptly levelled at 2-2.
Like so many other sports, tennis is mostly in the mind. All Cilic had to do was go back to executing everything he had done so well for the first two sets.
He had served impeccably, he had been the chief aggressor, he had returned with such ferocity that Federer had no room for manoeuvre.
And when it came to the first-set tie-break, Marin had got off to such a storming start that he soon led 5-0. Roger recovered, but only well enough to bring some respectability to the score line, which ended at 7-4.
Federer’s backhand had not been looking too clever in the opener, but in the second set it practically fell apart.
He had no answer to the sharper work of the younger man, whose own backhand was so much more accurate, and whose forehand was a sizzling weapon that often left Federer sprawling.
With the second set in the bag 6-4, it looked like one-way traffic and the very real possibility existed that Federer would be disposed of in straight sets, just as Cilic had done to him at the US Open two years ago.
And Cilic was capable of that, until he beat himself and allowed Federer back into the fight.
Roger then squandered his own break points in the fourth, having hit a couple of dreamy forehands. Soon it was the turn of Cilic to yell in triumph as he held against the odds.
Gradually, game by game, the composure that had served Cilic so well earlier in the match returned. It had to happen.
Pretty soon Federer was serving to stay in the match at 4-5. But he wasn’t prepared to give up the fight just yet. At 30-30, however, Roger could do nothing about an incredible winner. Match point.
Federer saved it bravely and the battle continued. He won the game and began to believe that it might just be his day after all.
He saved another match point by serving an ace at 5-6. We were back in tie-break territory. This one Roger just had to win. He did. And from that moment, the Federer Express was just unstoppable.
Now for Raonic. ‘He is having a great year, it should be a great match and I’m looking forward to playing him,’ concluded Federer.
Not as much as the rest of us are looking forward to seeing the incredible Federer conjure his magic one more time.