Fed­erer ready for shot at his­tory vs. Cilic

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY HOWARD FEN­DRICH

LON­DON — Much has changed for Roger Fed­erer since he played in, and won, his first Grand Slam fi­nal at Wim­ble­don in 2003.

First of all, as he re­minded ev­ery­one af­ter mov­ing into his 11th ti­tle match at the All Eng­land Club — with a shot at his eighth cham­pi­onship, more than any man in his­tory — he fa­vored a pony­tail and some scruff on his cheeks way back then. Nowa­days, his hair is short, his face clean shaven.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence for Fed­erer, whose 36th birth­day is Aug. 8, mak­ing him the oldest men’s fi­nal­ist at Wim­ble­don since 1974?

“I didn’t have kids run­ning around, po­ten­tially wak­ing me up at night,” he said. “To­day we’ve got to, like, close down the doors. Say, ‘Daddy is sleep­ing.’”

He’s a fa­ther of four: twin boys, 3; twin girls, 8 soon.

On the court, there are ways in which the Fed­erer who faces Marin Cilic to­day is not the same as the Fed­erer who beat Mark Philip­pous­sis 14 years ago. The larger racket, for ex­am­ple, or the in­creased will­ing­ness to hit over the top on his back­hand.

In truth, though, what’s most im­por­tant is this: Fed­erer is still as ca­pa­ble as ever of beat­ing ev­ery­one who stands in his way.

“This guy doesn’t re­ally seem (to be) get­ting any older or any­thing like that,” said To­mas Berdych, who lost to Fed­erer in the semi­fi­nals, “or slow­ing down at all.”

That’s cer­tainly the case. Fed­erer is 30-2 and tied for the tour lead with four ti­tles in 2017, in­clud­ing at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.

Dur­ing Wim­ble­don, he has not lost a set through six matches; the last man to earn the ti­tle with­out ced­ing a set was Bjorn Borg, 31 years ago. He’s only been bro­ken four times, sav­ing 16 of 20 break points along the way.

“Roger is play­ing maybe (some) of his best ten­nis of his ca­reer at the mo­ment,” said Cilic, the No. 7-seeded Croa­t­ian who hit 25 aces and re­turned quite well dur­ing his semi­fi­nal vic­tory over Sam Quer­rey. “It’s go­ing to be a huge chal­lenge.”

They have played each other seven times pre­vi­ously, with Fed­erer win­ning six, in­clud­ing in last year’s Wim­ble­don quar­ter­fi­nals. Cilic took the first two sets and even was one point from vic­tory, be­fore Fed­erer came back.

The lone head-to-head win for Cilic came in one of the most sig­nif­i­cant matches of his ca­reer: 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the semi­fi­nals of the 2014 U.S. Open, where he went on to earn his only Grand Slam ti­tle.

“He knows he ab­so­lutely de­stroyed Roger,” said Jonas Bjork­man, one of Cilic’s two coaches.

That knowl­edge is key for this match, ac­cord­ing to Bjork­man. So, too, is the past ex­pe­ri­ence of par­tic­i­pat­ing in, and win­ning, a ma­jor fi­nal.

“He knows what it takes,” Bjork­man said. “He knows how it feels to be out there, and he knows what it is to be un­der the pres­sure like that.”

The 6-foot-6 (1.98me­ter) Cilic, who is 28, has im­proved since then, too. His serve is bet­ter, as are his vol­leys and his in­cli­na­tion to move to the net. Those can help to­day. Would also be use­ful if he is able to read Fed­erer’s serves as well as he did Quer­rey’s.

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