Roger Federer and Marin Cilic vie for the 2017 Wimbledon men’s singles title. Federer goes for an unprecedented 8th title at the All-England club, while Cilic is hoping to win his first. Federer has won six of their previous seven meetings.
(3) Roger Federer vs (7) Marin Cilic
On a day when Federer might not have been as crisp as he’s been for most other days this tournament, he was still too good for 11th seed Tomas Berdych in the semifinals. Federer edged the Czech 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4. Fed still had a pretty elite serve showing as he won 84 percent of his first serve points and 60 percent off his second serve. He was broken just once on six chances. Berdych could not match him with a slightly off first serve that won just 68 percent of the points. The Swiss was able to craft nine break chances against Berdych, but only converted two times. Credit for that should go to Berdych who came up with some huge serves to fight off break points. The difference for most in the semifinal was seeing more unforced errors from Federer who had 20 to go with 53 winners. Federer only had 20 unforced errors in his previous two matches combined.
Cilic was put to the test against 25th seed Sam Querrey. After the American edged the opener in a tiebreak, Cilic rallied to finish him off 6-7 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5. Cilic pounded 25 aces and won 88 percent off his first serve. He was broken two times however on five chances. His ground game was killer with 70 winners and just 21 unforced errors. The Croat continued to be aggressive off the ground against Querrey, part of the newer tactics he has employed on grass this season. For the tournament, he now has 130 aces and 336 winners. Fed has 233 winners which compares well considering he has played five fewer sets at Wimbledon.
This marks the second straight year that these two will be meeting at Wimbledon. Last year in the quarterfinals, Federer rallied from down two sets to take Cilic out in five; 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3. It was their first meeting since the shock win for Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open where he took out Federer in the semifinals 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Federer saw more break opportunities against Cilic last year (9) by far than he did at the U.S. Open (2). The Swiss still only broke Cilic twice after breaking him just once in New York. One of the big differences was more freebies for Federer last year in London with 27 aces. He only had 12 in their U.S. Open clash. Cilic also threw in seven double faults last year. He had just one in New York.
At last year’s meeting, Federer came up huge by staving off three match points and then gradually finding more success against the Cilic serve after finding little joy in the first two sets. That seemed to be one of the big keys or Federer in that match-up, his will power. He came up time and time again on the key points when he had to have it. That seemed to frustrate Cilic a little bit as the match wore on late. Still, Cilic had every chance to beat Federer and will take some confidence into their final meeting this year due to that. Cilic has said he feels like he learned some things about himself in that loss and hopes he uses that to his advantage this year.
There are no secrets to where this starts for both players, serve. If you hearken back to the U.S. Open semifinal encounter in 2014, Cilic got into a tremendous rhythm on serve and Federer struggled to match him. He’s going to find times like that again certainly on Sunday where Cilic is simply going to blow through with easy holds. That is where the match against Berdych might work to his advantage. Berdych may not have had the easy holds that Cilic will get, but he frustrated Federer with his ability to fight off break points and also to get some easier service games in his pocket. After not facing much like that during his first five matches, the semifinal match I think will have given Federer a good mindset for facing Cilic’s powerful serve.
Cilic will face a similar obstacle in the Federer serve that may not always wow with power, but almost always packs precision that makes him difficult to return. Cilic’s length will help some in that aspect and the Croat is an underrated returner. Fed will need to be precise with his location on serve in order to set up those easy points at the net. It’s been his bread and butter on grass and will go a long way in helping or hindering him in pursuit of the title. Cilic as mentioned earlier is also employing a bit more of this style on his serve by moving forward when he gets his opponent into bad court positions. If he’s hitting his serve with power and precision, he’ll be coming in to finish off those aggressive points as well.
One of the things Berdych may have surprised with in the semis against Federer was with the power of his forehand and his ability to hit it from different angles consistently. Cilic has more power off the ground than Berdych and also brings a better ability to hit shots on the run. Federer would do well to test Cilic’s willingness to keep coming to net and his ability to keep making volleys consistently, rather than engaging in too many baseline to baseline ball bashing sessions.
When the baseline battles do get going, Cilic will try his best one would think to target the Federer backhand. It’s been getting better and better in recent rounds, but obviously is still the wing you want to target. Then, you just hope the Swiss has a few more errors coming off that side. Federer would do well to keep Cilic on the move for his part and not give the Croat time to set up shop and blast his forehand or double handed backhand from a stationary position. When Cilic can do that, he’s going to put Federer into some trouble if he’s hitting with accuracy.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
There’s a long line of people ready for the coronation of Roger Federer for the 8th time at Wimbledon and 19th time at Grand Slams overall. Slow your roll. Cilic is a tricky match-up for Federer and unlike Berdych, he’s got the confidence in having beaten Federer on the biggest of stages and also having him on the ropes here last year. I do think Cilic will need Federer’s help to pull off the upset and Federer has not shown us prolonged periods of poor play for most of the season. What the 7th seed can do is get off to a good start by taking a set early and putting that match pressure on the Swiss. It seemed to frustrate Federer some that Berdych was sticking with him as long as he did on the semifinals, so Cilic can give himself more belief by having that early success.
I don’t know that Cilic can do enough right and Federer enough wrong right now, but I do think Federer is finally going to lose a set. Cilic winning this one would probably be a much larger shock than the U.S. Open win nearly three years ago, which says volumes about what the soon-to-be 36-year-old Federer is doing to the rest of the ATP World Tour this year. Expect this one to be his toughest test yet, but expect Federer to find a way to win those big points again and stake claim to that unprecedented 8th Wimbledon title.
Prediction: Federer wins in four sets