Fabulous Federer does a Houdini

Federer yet again proved that the hallmark of a great champion is the courage and resourcefulness to fight from the trenches and never for a moment think about losing as he saved three matchpoints in the fourth set to win 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3.

Roger Federer celebrates after winning against Marin Cilic.   -  REUTERS

There are many things that our most lavishly luminous imagination can gain access to before the events occur. And then there are a handful of things that it simply cannot. In sport as in life, these phases are vanishingly rare.

The athletic arena would be devoid of wonder if this was not true. And nobody in the last two decades has challenged our ability to imagine what is humanly possible and what is not as has Roger Federer. But then, given his age (34) and his longevity, Federer had lately found out that he had to get down and dirty at times to survive major threats to his progress at the Grand Slam events.

In the 130th Wimbledon championships on Wednesday, the seven-time champion and third seed had no access to his customary game for almost two sets and a half as the Croatian Marin Cilic dominated the man widely regarded as the greatest of all time.

But Federer yet again proved that the hallmark of a great champion is the courage and resourcefulness to fight from the trenches and never for a moment think about losing as he saved three matchpoints in the fourth set to win 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3 in three hours and 17 minutes.

Whether he has ever heard about the legendary American baseball player Yogi Berra or not, Federer truly seemed to believe that "It ain’t over until it is over."

On the other hand, Cilic, who had beaten Federer in the U.S. Open, seemed to be in the zone – he served big, returned with tremendous confidence and outplayed the man who is worshipped by fans all over the world.

"A lot happened in the first two sets. I was in trouble in the fourth set. He is a nice guy on the tour," said the great man. "I fought very well and played super great tennis at the end. Early on, I wasn’t seeing his serve. I was hoping for a drop in his game and that tie-break was crazy. It was an incredible match. The last three sets were very good for me.”

The match which featured two contrasting parts, was one of those contests that reminded you of the cliched chicken or egg question. The first two sets saw the man who has so often in his career turned the mundane into something luminously poetic, labour his way like an also ran. Then everything changed in the fifth game of the third set.

Cilic hit two great passing shots, one on either flank, to push the Swiss genius to the very brink. Down two sets and 0-40 on serve in the fifth game of the third, Federer, like a magician coming up with another thrilling new trick, staved them off.

We can argue forever about whether the Croatian, coached by Goran Ivanisevic, choked or whether Federer somehow found his A Game. But everything changed from there – and Cilic’s confidence took a huge dent even as Federer began to think he could pull this one off.

His backhand, which was all over the place until then, suddenly became a weapon of kill. But it wasn’t over yet. In the 10th game of the fourth set, Cilic hit a superb backhand down the line pass to set up a matchpoint; but it disappeared in quick time. So did two other matchpoints, in the ninth and 11th games of the fourth set and then at 7-6 for Cilic in the tiebreak.

Of course, numbers and records and stats boxes can seldom explain the Federer phenomenon. He lived up to the escalating spiral of expectations in the stands once he took the third set as only he can.

To be sure, the packed centre court was not really a garden of delight which it is when Federer is playing his best. But the match must surely have come as a devastating stake through the heart for the talented Croatian.

Spotting a Canadian player in the semifinals of the Wimbledon tennis championship is like the sighting of a wild elephant in a Montreal suburb. But Milos Raonic created history on Wednesday as he beat Sam Querrey of the United States 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 to book his place in the last four of the 130th championship.

The match was closer than the scoreline may suggest and it ended the dream run of Querrey, who had beaten the top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Thomas Berdych of the Czech Republic sailed past Lucas Pouille of France 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-2 to make the semifinals.

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