Marin Cilic is finally going to contest a Wimbledon final with a puncher’s chance to knock out seven-time champion Roger Federer. It’s overdue because Cilic has proven for many years that he is one of the most dangerous players on fast surfaces.
The Croat defeated Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the 2014 US Open semifinals and hauled off his lone major two days later against Kei Nishikori. Not that the Swiss Maestro has forgotten.
"He crushed me at the US Open a few years ago—I hope he doesn't play that good," Federer said after his semifinal win over Tomas Berdych.
For all of Cilic’s talent, he has been vulnerable in holding leads in big matches the past year. He faltered against Federer in the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinals after winning the first two sets and holding three match points. He lost to Jack Sock in Davis Cup play one week later after winning the first two sets. He also fell to Juan Martin Del Potro after a two sets lead in the Davis Cup final that swung the title in Argentina's favor.
Federer’s greatness has been well chronicled, but Cilic can win if he is strong in three areas.
Powerful serving will not be enough. Cilic averages about 120 mph on his first serve, but that won't be enough. He must keep the Swiss off balance by locating well on both sides of the box and a few body serves.
Somehow Cilic will need to break Federer’s serve. The return game is perhaps Cilic’s biggest weakness. So far Federer has been broken only four times the entire tournament, and he has not dropped a set.
How will Cilic play during the pressure points? He's never contested a Wimbledon final. Will he think about the three collapses from last year? Can he lock in and finish off his opportunities? He will have to be spectacular to fend off Federer’s superior championship experience.
The 28-year-old Cilic is clearly the underdog as Federer seeks his record eighth Wimbledon title and 19th major. Cilic could be what Stan Wawrinka was to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 French Open, meaning he will need to play one of the best matches of his career on Sunday.
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