Sooth Lions


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.

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