SW34 is TENNIS.com's Wimbledon blog that will provide on-site news, insight and commentary about a pair of legendary 34-year-olds, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, as they look to once again triumph at the All England Club.

LONDON—The world was rewarded with a Wimbledon classic on Wednesday, with Roger Federer saving three match points against Marin Cilic and completing an improbable comeback, 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3.

“It’s great fun playing against Marin, he’s one of the nicest guys on tour,” the 34-year-old said. “I feel sorry for him, but for me the dream continues. I thought I fought well, I played great at the end. I’m very, very pleased.”

Though Cilic won their last match, in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2014, the Swiss led their head to head 5-1 going into Wednesday, and his form has been far better than the Croat’s. Cilic had the fortnight of his life to capture his maiden Grand Slam in New York two years ago, but the world No. 13 hasn’t performed particularly well since.

The 27-year-old, however, was playing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the third straight year. Cilic’s biggest change was adding 2001 Wimbledon champion and fellow Croat Goran Ivanisevic to his team.

“Definitely since I'm working with Goran, we made three quarters in a row, which I have never done before,” Cilic said. “Definitely just a sign that we are working well. This year I feel that I'm playing the best out of all these years in the past, and it's another good, positive sign.”

If he’s dialed in and making the big shots, Cilic can beat anyone, as he has proved in the past. What Federer lacks in power, the world No. 3 makes up for in finesse, particularly with crafty passing shots, pinpoint precision on his serve and ground-stroke winners.


The first set’s only possible end was a tiebreaker. Cilic went up 3-0 with a few forced errors from Federer’s racquet, and then hit two huge serves for a 5-0 lead. Despite Federer’s effort to come back, Cilic was pressing too hard, and his flawless serve earned him a 7-6 (4) set. It marked Federer’s first lost set of the tournament.

An on-fire Cilic was laying into his forehand from the get-go, and Federer looked, at times, like he was being blown off the court. It was exactly what he said about their 2014 U.S. Open match, and exactly what he feared.

“Everything he touched went in,” Federer said about that day. “I don't know. It was all right. Here is a chance, boom. Maybe here is another chance, boom … I didn't play poorly in any way. It was just all on his racquet. It was very seldom that I was blown off the court like that.”

The 6’6” Cilic started off the second set as strong as ever, earning his first break-point chance at 1-1 and converting it. Things were starting to go south quickly for the Swiss. Cilic raced ahead, hitting ace after ace to pull ahead 5-3. To break his serve, Federer would need a miracle. Instead, Cilic put away the second set 6-4, only having to save one break point. Cilic’s fast-paced style was dictating the match, and the two sets were over in just 75 minutes.

Federer has come back from two sets down before at Wimbledon, in the third round against Julien Benneteau back in 2012. But the odds were heavily stacked against him.

“He had one chance,” Federer said. “He took it. [And] next thing you know you’re down two sets to love on grass. On the return, he was reading my serve. I couldn’t read his serve. It wasn’t going well for me. Somehow I had to stay in the match and hope he drops his level a little bit.”

To start the third, Federer held for 1-0. If Cilic proved able to maintain his incredible level, this match was going to be over very soon.

Federer was having the most success when he put pressure on Cilic and extended the points, forcing the tall Croat to hit defter shots instead of just powerful ones. The holds took them to 3-3, and then Cilic went up 40-0 on Federer’s serve. Losing one of these points would surely have ended the seven-time Wimbledon champion’s run, but he saved them all and won five points in a row to take the game.


"I was a little bit unlucky in the third [set]," Cilic said. "I had one game Love‑40, the next game he broke me. That switched a little bit the momentum."

The momentum was firmly in Federer’s court as he extended his point winning streak to seven. Thanks to a 136 m.p.h. serve, Cilic stopped the roll. Still, Federer earned another break-point chance, with Cilic double faulting to give Federer a 5-3 lead. A slick backhand winner sealed the third set for the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

Cilic has struggled with consistency and injuries since winning his maiden major, most notably a lingering shoulder problem in 2015. Case in point: He reached the final of Geneva, only to fall in the first round of the French Open and Stuttgart. He then righted the ship in time for Wimbledon, reaching the semifinals of Queen’s Club.

In the fourth, Cilic was feeling the pressure of Federer’s raised aggression, and letting him back in the match would prove very costly. At 2-2 in the fourth set, Federer got double break point, but Cilic’s booming serve got him out of trouble as he ripped four unreturnable first serves.

Federer was moving the tall Croat around the court a lot more. He aggressively positioned himself inside the court instead of lagging behind the baseline. He was getting more chances, but still no breaks as the set went to 5-4 in Cilic’s favor with Federer on serve.

Cilic had his first match point at 30-40, but he missed a forehand return long. He would hold handily in the next game. He would get his second match point on Federer’s serve at 6-5, but a Federer ace saved it, sending the match into a tiebreaker.

“I mean, well, a lot happened out there,” Federer said. “It was nice and warm. It was nice to play in these conditions. Marin is such a wonderful player. I knew I was in so much trouble in the third and the fourth.”


With improbable comeback against Cilic, Federer advances to 11th Wimbledon semi

With improbable comeback against Cilic, Federer advances to 11th Wimbledon semi

Federer needed a quick start in the second tiebreaker of the match, and a 112 m.p.h. second serve got him on the board for 1-1. He then went ahead 4-3, and an incredibly casual and smart challenge on a huge return helped him go ahead 5-3. But at 6-4, on his first set point, he missed a routine forehand approach, and Cilic saved the next set point with an ace. Cilic then earned his third match point, but he missed a forehand return on a second serve. Eventually, the Swiss capitalized on his fifth set point to end the roller-coaster madness 11-9.

“Obviously, the breaker was crazy,” Federer said. “It was an incredible match.”

"If we would go back to play again, I would try to be more aggressive on the chances when I had them in the fourth," Cilic said. "Maybe there was a slight hesitation in some of them obviously. The situation made it big."

For the first time in hours, Federer was in the lead, up 1-0 to open the fifth. Another thing in Federer's favor, aside from not having to cope with missing three match-points chances, was that he got to serve first.

The early edge went in Federer's favor, as he got a break-point chance in the sixth game. Cilic escaped for 3-3, but it was a sign that Federer was putting more pressure on the Croat in return games. His elevated level of play was rewarded with more break chances at 4-3, and he converted on the second one with a missed down-the-line forehand from Cilic.

Not only was Cilic's serve broken, but his resolve was, as well. Federer served the final game out with two aces to take the marathon match, 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3. Remarkably, Federer would end up with 27 aces to Cilic’s 23, in a five-set thriller that lasted just under three-and-a-half hours.

Cilic was seeking his third major semifinal appearance, but instead, Federer survived to reach his 40th, and 11th at Wimbledon.

“I think the last three sets were really good,” Federer said. “It’s really encouraging to see that I’m really improving as the match goes on. I was able to sustain a high level of play, my legs were there, my back was there … Plus, mentally, this is going to give me a hell of a boot.”

Next up for the Swiss is Milos Raonic, another tall, big server with former Yugoslavian roots. The sixth seed ended Sam Querrey’s run in four sets.