RUTHLESS Roger Federer thrashed suffering Croatian Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 to become the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles crowns yesterday, five years after landing his seventh.
The Swiss maestro, appearing in his 11th Wimbledon final, was challenged early on but once he broke a nervous Cilic in the fifth game of the opening set the match became a no-contest.
Not that Federer was concerned as, 23 days before his 36th birthday, the father of four became the oldest men’s singles champion at Wimbledon in the professional era – taking the title back without dropping a set throughout the fortnight.
It continued a remarkable resurgence by Federer who returned from six months off at the start of the year to win the Australian Open – ending a fiveyear wait for an 18th Grand Slam many thought would remain elusive.
Now he has 19 and looks capable of adding more.
“I’ve got to take more time off,” Federer joked as his twin girls Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, who were there when he beat Andy Murray in the 2012 final, and twin boys Leo and Lennart, who were not, watched their father kiss the trophy he first won in 2003.
“Not to drop a set it’s magical, I can’t believe it just yet, it’s too much really. It’s just belief, that I can achieve such heights. I wasn’t sure I would ever be here in another final. But I always believed I could maybe come back and do it again.”
For seventh seed Cilic, his first final on Centre Court became a nightmare broadcast to hundreds of millions around the world. His legs looked heavy, his mind seemed a fuzz and at times he looked on the point of throwing in the towel – breaking down in tears at 0-3 in the second set.
“It’s cruel sometimes and he’s a hero so congratulations on a wonderful tournament,” Federer, whose tears were those of joy, said generously. “Sometimes of course the demands of that tournament are dismissive of patience and defence.
Amla’s a smart enough player that he wouldn’t allow the kind of flamboyance demanded in the shorter formats to impact on his Test game.
But even the best of players can develop bad habits and the rhythm of Test match batting can be difficult to find when you’ve spent the best part of four months swinging your bat as hard as possible.
Amla certainly didn’t have that rhythm at Lord’s, misjudging Moeen Ali’s spin in the first innings and then being flummoxed by a beauty from Liam Dawson in the second.
In this Test though the rhythm of Test batting has returned for you don’t feel great in the final and it’s cruel.”
After a reasonably solid start, in which he had the final’s first break point, Cilic cracked after dropping serve at 2-2 when his backhand went AWOL after a tumble earlier in the game.
Federer scented blood and quickly polished off the first set before breaking Cilic to lead 3-0 in the second.
Cilic slumped to his chair in tears as the physio and tournament referee attended him and for a moment it looked as though the final might end in a retirement for the first time since 1911.
Given sympathetic cheers by the Federer-favouring 15 000 crowd, the 28-year-old managed to regain his composure him. He had to fight very hard on day one against a swinging and seaming ball under cloudy skies to make 78.
With South Africa wanting to bat all day, while the pitch was still playing well, Amla could regain the Test match batting rhythm which has seemingly deserted him in the last year.
With the exception of his century against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers in his 100th Test Amla hasn’t spent very much time at the crease for a player so well known for his patient approach to batting.
Yesterday that virtue was on full display.
Amla just wanted to bat, runs were not a priority, time was, so was his defence and judgement and those were for large parts of but there was no chance of Federer letting up as he accelerated towards the title he cherishes more than any.
Cilic required a medical timeout after surrendering the second set in 25 minutes – apparently suffering with a foot injury – but it was his spirit that was broken.
Federer was unrelenting and with Cilic’s brain still seemingly out of contact with his legs, the Swiss third seed broke in the seventh game of the third set as Cilic crashed yet another groundstroke into the net.
The end came quickly as Federer served at 5-4 to regain the title. He missed a first match point when a forehand went wide but converted the second with his eighth ace of the match. yesterday in very good order.
Ben Stokes bowled a brutal spell around the lunch interval in which he dismissed Dean Elgar, who got in an awful tangle against a short ball.
Amla ducked and swayed and when Stokes drew him forward his front foot defence was immaculate.
The hook shot was mostly absent, although there was one searing pull of Mark Wood which saw the ball rocket to the boundary.
Otherwise Amla was becalmed his only sign of aggression coming against England’s spinners with Dawson targeted before lunch when Amla launched him straight a couple of times, including hitting him for six, to register his second half century of the match.
It didn’t make for enthralling viewing, but it proved mighty effective although given all the hard work he’d put in, he’d have been miffed – at least as miffed as Amla gets – that he was dismissed just 13 runs short of a century, especially as that dismissal was to Dawson.
For South Africa perhaps the most significant ball of the day was the one that got skipper Faf du Plessis out. The barely 10 over old second new ball shot through low from Stokes, striking Du Plessis just above his ankle.
That the pitched should be acting that way after just three days probably influenced South Africa’s decision to declare late in the evening. It’s reasonable to assume it will only get worse. JOHAN Ackermann is adamant the only advantage his team will have against the Sharks in the Super Rugby quarter-finals this coming Saturday is the fact the Lions will be playing at home and in front of their own fans. For the rest, it’s back to square one and starting from scratch.
The Lions secured top spot overall thanks to their 27-10 win against the Sharks in the final pool game of the competition in Durban on Saturday night after the Crusaders had lost to the Hurricanes earlier in the day.
Ackermann’s men will now remain on home turf for as long as they stay in the competition.
Saturday’s quarter-final against Robert du Preez’s men will be the third meeting between the teams this season. Earlier this year Ackermann’s team won 34-29 in a tight encounter at Ellis Park and on Saturday, in Durban, they comfortably won by 17 points.
The Lions boss though feels his side won’t necessarily have a psychological advantage over the Durbanites because of those two wins.
“Whether it is the Sharks or if it was going to be the Highlanders, or whoever, the team coming here is going to give it everything. They’re going to throw everything at us, and we’re going to have to do the same. It’s a knockout game. The only difference really is we’re at home,” Ackermann explained.
He did, however, say that the win in Durban would give his players the necessary confidence going into the clash.
“One has to take confidence out of that and also the joy of finishing first on the log,” he said.
With 65 log points from 14 wins out of 15, the Lions finished on top of the overall log, with the Crusaders second, with 63 points, also from 14 wins. The Stormers and Brumbies will also host quarter-final clashes after winning their respective conferences.
After falling at the last hurdle last season – to the Hurricanes in the final in Wellington – having finishing second overall, the Lions now have a wonderful opportunity to make up for that defeat and win the title so many feel they deserved last season. Ackermann said he agreed his team were in a better position to win the competition now than they were last year.
“It’s great knowing we don’t have any more away games, that there’s no more travel involved ... what happens from now on is purely in our own hands. But, there are no log points to play for anymore; we’re going back to zero from now on.
“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved this season, topping the log, getting home play-off matches ... and those are all positives, but we know the Sharks fairly well now and we know they’re going to test us on Saturday. The last game at Ellis Park was a real dogfight, and I expect the quarter-final to be the same.”
Ackermann, pictured, reiterated that nothing should be read into the teams’ two previous meetings this season, both won by the Lions.
“The Crusaders beat us at Ellis Park (43-37 in round six) last year, then we beat them (42-25 in the quarter-finals) ... Saturday’s match is a new 80 minutes.
“Both coaches will look at their tactics and see where they can adjust. After 80 minutes the side that makes the least mistakes under pressure, the side that concedes the least penalties, and whose discipline is best, will win. We’re starting fresh on Monday and won’t look back at the previous games.”
There is no denying though the Lions will be the far more relaxed and happier team. After all, they haven’t lost a Super Rugby match at home since the end of April last year; a run of 13 matches unbeaten.
The Sharks have a monumental task ahead of them if they’re to end that run.