Roger Federer said after his three hour and 17 minute Wimbledon quarter-final match against his ouster from the US Open two years ago, Marin Cilic, winning it in a five-set thriller 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3. For the millions of Federer fans, who have anointed him the “king of tennis,” they have been waiting for him to have another chance at a record 18 grand slam trophy.
They watched him make it to the finals last year, only to see the hope dashed again by the current dominant player, Novak Djokovic. He also met him in the US Open final as well and once again, hope was rekindled, then smashed yet again by the same man, losing to him twice in a row in four setters.
Not this year. Serbia’s Djokovic is out, having been defeated by USA underdog Sam Querry (who lost his quarter-final match to Federer’s opponent for the semis, Milos Raonic). Djokovic had won all the grand slams, Djokovic seemed unstoppable, and so many Federer fans were asking if he would stand in the way yet again if the Swiss Maestro could make it to the finals. Djvic is no longer a factor, having gone out in uncustomary fashion with a lackluster performance to Querry. Now it is an open playing field for Federer and the question is if he can make it stick this time.
It all looked like another loss in the twilight of his career for the first two sets against Marin Cilic. The first set went to a tie-break. Many times, when push comes to shove, Federer ups his game to pull through during tie-breaks. In fact, in his Wimbledon match last year against Djokovic, he did just that, and ignited hope for the many fans in a thriller that gave him the tie break win (and only set win) at 12-10 in the second set. But this time, it went Cilic’s way in the first set, 7-6 (7-4), and it was looking more like the semi-final loss at the US Open when Cilic easily beat him in three sets.
Then today’s match went to a second set and again, Cilic with the win. In the 51 Grand Slam matches he has played where he was two sets up, he has come out ahead. But not this time. Not today.
Cilic’s record was broken by the player who is so good at breaking records, who many call the Greatest of All Time.
“I wasn’t seeing his serves anymore,” Federer said. “Next thing you know you’re down two sets to love on grass. I thought he was playing very well, US Open-esque. On the return he was reading my serve. On the serve, I couldn’t read his serve.”
But Federer rallied in the third set. He broke Cilic for the first time in the third, leveling it up 5-3 and winning the set, to everyone’s great surprise. He kept up the momentum into the fourth, miraculously saving three match points to cinch a two-set victory to even things up. During that momentum Federer’s beautiful grass game emerged and he stunned the crowd with crosscourt points that just happened to graze the line. Some of his strokes were so fast and hit the edges of the line, they whizzed past the Croatian.
By the time it got to the deciding fifth set, a lot was riding on the line. You could sense the anticipation building in the crowd. Federer broke Cilic again and was serving it out for the match. On match point, he hit his first serve into the net and the camera panned to his dad in the player’s box, who took an intake of breathe and put his head down for a moment. Everyone was hoping the dream was still alive.
Federer then ripped an ace to claim the win.
As with almost every Federer match these days, you can hear the tinkling of broken records in the background. In this match, he set the all-time record for wins. He won his 307th Grand Slam match, breaking Martina Navratilova’s
His next opponent that he will face is Canada’s Milos Raonic on Friday. Two more match wins away from a career 18th Grand Slam. The dream is still very much alive.