Wimbledon Men's Final Preview: Can Cilic stop the unstoppable Federer?

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Federer is 6-1 lifetime against Cilic. (AP)

Roger Federer [3] vs. Marin Cilic [7]

“Does Cilic have a chance?” is the question of the hour at the All England Club. The answer is an emphatic yes. In fact, there may be as many good reasons for picking him as there are for picking his more famous and accomplished opponent. 

Yes, Federer has a 6-1 record against Cilic, but their matches have tightened considerably over the last three years. At the Rogers Cup in 2014, Federer won in three close sets. Then, a month later, Cilic stunned him in the U.S. Open semifinals, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. While Federer avenged that defeat in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year, he had to pull off an epic, match-point-saving high-wire act to do it. The lesson we can take from those three matches is that Cilic’s game matches up well against Federer’s these days. His serve is strong enough to keep him close, and he has the reach and the two-handed backhand to do damage on his return. At the Open, and through the first two sets at Wimbledon last year, Cilic dominated the rallies.

If Cilic’s game is strong enough to stay with Federer’s, the question becomes psychological. How will he react if he builds a lead this time? It isn’t so much whether he believes he can win the match—of course he believes that. But does he believe he should win this match? I liked the way Cilic handled his first Wimbledon semi; things could have gotten a lot more complicated against Sam Querrey, but Cilic made sure they didn’t. Querrey, of course, is not Federer, but Cilic knows he can win majors, and he’s unlikely to be satisfied with a close loss and a moral victory on Sunday. 

Federer has done just about everything right in this tournament. He hasn’t dropped a set, and he beat two quality opponents, Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych, in his last two matches. The question for him will be how he reacts if he finds himself trailing for the first time this fortnight. Federer has looked a little tight in three first sets—against Dusan Lajovic, Mischa Zverev and Berdych. He managed to win them all in tiebreakers, and didn’t look back from there. For that reason, the first set of this final may be even more important than normal. 

Over the last few years, we’ve seen Federer look very good early in Slams, only to falter at the end. He solved that problem in Australia, and kept the title-winning momentum going in Indian Wells and Miami. But has he solved it for good? Finally, rain is a possibility. While Federer obviously likes playing under a roof—he won the title under it in 2012—the big-serving Cilic shouldn’t be seriously disadvantaged by going indoors.

Whoever wins, this is a deserving contest, even if it doesn’t feature an all-Big Four showdown. Federer-Cilic at Wimbledon was the match of the year in 2016. Why shouldn’t we get to see it again in the final?

Winner: Cilic

—GRAND SLAM WEEK: Watch Wimbledon Primetime on Tennis Channel, and catch up on the other 2017 Grand Slams on Tennis Channel Plus
—Watch encores from the 2017 French Open and Australian Open on Tennis Channel Plus, including matches like the AO Final showdown between Serena & Venus Williams

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