Wimbledon: One had a blister, the other was simply blistering

Roger Federer uses every weapon in his vast arsenal to exploit every weakness of his younger opponents. “It is cruel sometimes,” the 35-year-old Swiss noted in his Centre Court interview after punishing Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in a disappointing Wimbledon final. Federer was referring to the foot blister that hampered the 28-year-old Croat.

Federer throws a ball into the crowd in celebration.   -  GETTY IMAGES

“I love this tournament. All my dreams came true here as a player.” — Roger Federer

During the 1984 TV campaign debate with Walter Mondale, president Ronald Reagan, then 73 and 17 years older than Mondale, cleverly turned the age issue around, quipping, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Roger Federer, another amiable man of distinction, is not as charitable. Federer uses every weapon in his vast arsenal to exploit every weakness of his younger opponents. “It is cruel sometimes,” the 35-year-old Swiss noted in his Centre Court interview after punishing Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in a lackluster Wimbledon final. Federer was referring to the foot blister that hampered the 28-year-old Croat.

READ: Federer wins record eighth Wimbledon title

Trailing 6-3, 3-0, Cilic called for the trainer and the physician on the changeover. The painful blister had burst and Cilic sat weeping for a couple of minutes before draping a towel over his head. The Wimbledon staff comforted him, but strangely, he received no treatment or medication. “It was really bad luck, but I wanted to give my best and try as much as I could,” Cilic said afterwards. “But it was tough when you are in that situation because you know there is not much chance to win.” Especially against the effortlessly efficient Federer who called Cilic “a hero” for carrying on the good fight against all odds.

Federer’s wife Mirka and family present a happy picture after his victory.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Cilic, the tallest Wimbledon finalist ever at 6’ 6,” had a puncher’s chance against the sport’s consensus GOAT (Greatest of All Time). Though he trailed 6-1 in career matches, Cilic overpowered Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 at the 2014 US Open where he won his only major title. And a year ago in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, he had three match points before Federer, though slowed by a bad knee, outlasted him. This time, fate was cruel to Cilic.

In Picture: Federer's eight at Wimbledon

The blister had developed during seventh seed Cilic’s five-set victories over giant-killers Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Muller had upset French Open champion Rafael Nadal in a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 marathon, while Querrey knocked out No. 1 seed Andy Murray, impeded by a hip injury, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1, 6-1.

After his semifinal win over Querrey, a confident Cilic crowed, “I have a big belief in my game.” After his semifinal win over Tomas Berdych, Federer was so relaxed that he hosted a party for 40 people.

After his semifinal win over Tomas Berdych, Federer hosted a party for 40 people. Perhaps the sheer normalcy of Federer accounts partly for his extraordinary success and longevity.

In the opening four games, Cilic looked the more nervous of the two, bouncing the ball a dozen or more times before every serve. Hitting almost every shot aggressively, Cilic had a break point in the fourth game, which he then squandered with a backhand serve return error.

Nothing went right for Marin Cilic in the final.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The match turned suddenly in the fifth game. Federer’s agility and artistry enabled him to track down a super angle outside the alley and flick a backhand into the open court. Cilic fell down after stroking his backhand and went down love-30. Four points later, Federer broke his serve for 3-2.

Cilic’s frustration only increased when he double-faulted for a second service break that gave Federer the first set 6-3. Breaking serve was yet another problem for Cilic. Federer grabbed the last 11 points of the first set and the first six points of the second set when he served.

At 6-3, 2-0, 30-0 for Federer, the match looked more like a coronation than a competition. When Federer made an unforced forehand error on the next point, the British spectators uncharacteristically cheered because they wanted a closer match.

READ: Roger Federer vows to defend Wimbledon title in 2018

Federer mixed in some serving and volleying to display his full repertoire. The tactic reminded Federer fans and tennis purists of his first Wimbledon title 14 years ago when he frequently employed this dying art. Oh how it would have pleased Willie Renshaw, who with Pete Sampras and Federer shared the singles record of seven titles before Federer smashed it on Sunday. Willie practised and preached serving and volleying in the 1880s.

The Mighty Fed finished off the second set at 6-1 with an ace. During the break, the trainer re-taped Cilic’s ailing left foot, but it was to no avail. Cilic couldn’t make the little adjustment steps so essential on grass and often lunged off-balance for balls. Federer exploited his movement problems mercilessly by stroking many of his 23 winners (against only 8 unforced errors) and forcing errors repeatedly with powerful placements. He broke Cilic’s serve in the seventh game to go ahead 4-3.

With the sun finally breaking through and his two sets of adorable twins watching in the Players’ Box, Federer fired an ace on championship point. Minutes later, Federer shed a few tears, as he often does in both victory and defeat after major finals. Asked why he became so emotional, he told Tennis Channel, “Seeing my family and seeing the trophy there. I remember all the work I put in. Everyone was watching. The standing ovation. I let my guard down for a moment.” Just another reason Federer has been voted the ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favorite for a record 14 straight years.

 

Nineteen years after the Swiss maestro won the Wimbledon junior title, he won his record-extending 19th Grand Slam title, making him the oldest Wimbledon men’s champion in the Open Era. And for the first time since 2009, he captured two majors in the same year. Yet another Fed feat: not since Bjorn Borg in 1976 had any man captured The Championships without dropping a set. “He’s arguably playing better than he ever has,” praised 1980s superstar John McEnroe. “It’s hard to imagine anyone else will ever be even close to be compared to this man. He’s the most beautiful player I’ve ever seen. He’s the most spectacular mover. I call him the Baryshnikov of tennis. And he’s the class act of class acts. Everyone likes him.”

Just nine months ago, this scenario seemed improbable if not implausible. Murray and Djokovic were battling fiercely for the No. 1 ranking, while older archrivals Federer and Nadal were sidelined by injuries. In fact, Roger was still recuperating from knee surgery and Rafa was so hobbled by a serious wrist injury that they couldn’t even play a few games for the kids when Federer helped Nadal open his new tennis academy in Mallorca. Now Nadal leads the ATP points race with 7,095 and Federer is not far behind at 6,545. They so outdistance No. 3 Dominic Thiem at 3,345 that either legend is almost certain to finish the year ranked No. 1.

Ironically, Federer’s only losses this year have come against semi-retired Tommy Haas and journeyman Evgeny Donskoy, both ranked outside the top 100, and in both matches Federer failed to convert a match point. Put differently, the incomparable Federer, who turns 36 on August 8, is just two points away from having a perfect season.

For those who savour statistics, the list of Federer’s records keeps growing. He even quipped, “So many records were broken this Wimbledon I don’t even know what I did.” Besides becoming the first man to notch eight Wimbledon and 19 Grand Slam titles (four more than Nadal and five ahead of Sampras with Djokovic a distant seven behind), he reached an all-time record 29 major finals (seven more than second-place Nadal). Federer is also the only player to have won three different majors (Wimbledon and the Australian and US Opens) at least five times, and his 302 weeks ranked No. 1 is the most of any man since the ATP list began in 1973.

As mind-blowing as these records are, they and others may be broken or extended before Federer hangs up his rackets. “If you had asked a year ago at this time, ‘Can Roger Federer win another major?’ I would have said no,” offered ESPN analyst and former U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. “Now if you ask me, ‘Is there any way Roger Federer won’t win another major?’ I’d say, heck no! This (year) has just been extraordinary.”

Not dropping a set at Wimbledon impressed even The Great One himself. “It’s magical. I can’t believe it yet,” he said.

So how did Federer do it? “It’s belief that I can achieve such heights,” he explained. “If you believe, you can go really far in your life. I’m happy I kept on believing and dreaming.”

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