Roger Federer and Marin Cilic clashed for the first time in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2016 since Cilic had infamously denied Federer a chance at slam number 18 two years earlier at the US Open. Both the Swiss and Croat had recorded relatively poor results leading up to the grass season besides respective final appearances at Brisbane (Federer) and Geneva (Cilic) which saw both losing in straight-set matches in that year.
Federer, who was forced to pull out of most of the spring season tournaments due to a knee injury he had sustained a day after his semifinal defeat to Djokovic at the Australian Open, was barely included in the circle of potential title aspirants by the time the tournament began. Not having had his usual competitive match play-routine prior to his most treasured tournament, Federer found himself in historically unprecedented territory.
Cilic on the other hand was starting to regain his form a week earlier at Queen’s by reaching his second final of the season and pushing the World number two to a third, deciding set in said match.
At SW19 Federer did not concede a set until his quarterfinal and performed better with each round, defeating second round-wonder and local attraction Marcus Willis in the process. Cilic was given an equally easy draw as Federer until the fourth round where he collided with world number six, Kei Nishikori. Despite having lost a set to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the third round, Cilic had been serving impeccably. His ability to dominate with his first strike of off his serve had carried him through his matches with ease.
The Nishikori-encounter was no exception to that. With only 13 (total) games contested and only 44 minutes of match time on the clock, Cilic had already accumulated a mesmerizing sum of 17 aces. Regardless of Nishikori’s retirement, Cilic moved on with overwhelming confidence which he sought to translate into his third consecutive quarterfinal at the All England Club, bidding to progress one step further this time.
The match commenced with both players holding their serve comfortably. A couple of unforced errors at 2-2 during the fifth game caused Cilic to find himself at 15-40 as Federer had his first break points of the match. However, fortune seemed to favor the brave as Cilic rushed the net with a sensible approach into the Federer backhand, finishing the point with a sublimely executed backhand volley. The second break opportunity was quickly swept away by a serving bullet down the T. The remainder of the first serve was shaped by quick holds for both players and after 12 games of fine grass-court tennis display the set headed to a tiebreak.
There Cilic sprinted ahead to lead by 5-0 within a matter of moments, aided by various errors of Federer and some heavy serving of his own. Despite saving two set points Cilic took the tiebreak 7-4 and thus the set by 7-6 as a backhand slice of Federer sailed long.
The second set was much of the same in terms of dominant grass court tennis display as both players only created one break point of their own. However, only Cilic converted his only opportunity as Federer shanked a routine backhand at 30-40, 1-1 and thereby surrendered his only service game of the afternoon. Federer’s sole break point came during the following game. Once again, he was denied breaking the Cilic serve as he netted a forehand return. The Croat did not look back and fired three aces down the court in his next service game. Starting to assert his authority on the court more and more, Cilic made the crowd realize that an upset might just be on the cards. Soon after, he closed out the set: 6-4.
Proceedings scarcely differed from what had happened the past two sets until game seven of the third set at 3-3 when Federer found himself triple break point down and his Wimbledon 2016 campaign close to being ended prematurely. After having saved all three of those and having animated himself with his trademark “Chum jetze!”-roar for the first time, Federer’s desire to at least delay Cilic resurfaced noticeably.
Accompanied by the ardent support of the Centre Court crowd, Federer finally broke the Cilic’s serve at 4-3, as Cilic gifted him the game by serving his first double fault of the afternoon. Federer was quick to seize his opportunity and took the third set 6-3. Though still impressive, Cilic’s serving numbers had dropped slightly while Federer’s had improved as the former dropped below 50% of points won on second serves while the latter surpassed that figure.
At the start of the fourth set, both players kept holding serve without wasting any time in the process. Federer created his first two break points in the fifth game at 2-2, 15-30 by delivering a stunning backhand winner down the line. Instantly, Cilic literally evaporated Federer’s hopes as yet another three aces crashed down his side of the court. Tension grew inside Centre Court and culminated when Federer faced a match point at 4-5, 30-40. To the crowd’s relief, Cilic sent his second serve return long and Federer managed to hold on, forcing to fend off another match point at 5-6, 30-40 which he did by serving an ace out wide.
A second tiebreak of the afternoon ensued, further inciting an already vibrant crowd. Both players went toe to toe, delivering some clutch serving and ball-striking. As with many of his opportunities during this match before, a second set point for Federer at 6-5 was swiftly nullified by a Cilic ace. The previous one had come and gone quickly with a shocking forehand miss of Federer on the front foot.
At 6-7 Federer was asked to save yet another match point which he did just as quickly as Cilic with a second serve service winner. Federer created a third set point by resisting a fierce forehand return of Cilic and ultimately securing the point at the net. Cilic however, denied Federer through a tremendous backhand pass up the line in the following point. Uncharacteristically, Cilic served the first double fault of the set at an equally inconvenient occasion reminiscent of the third set.
The Swiss did not convert his fourth set point either, this time a forehand unforced error being the cause. Some astonishing defending saw him go up 10-9 and create yet another chance at leveling the match. Ultimately, Cilic netted a forehand and immediately Federer’s joy was resembled by the crowd’s roar of excitation.
Quite evidently, self-belief had fully been restored in the seven time champion as his service games stayed untouched for the remainder of the match. He began sending passing winners off of both wings to the other side of the court, some of which – especially on the backhand side – were absolutely stunning, such as the backhand up the line passing flicker which Sky Sports commentator Mark Petchey regarded as “the best shot of the day”.
Although a break point came and went for Federer, he was finally able to bring himself into the driving seat by profiting from a forehand error of Cilic and being given an opportunity to serve out the match. During the match’s last game, Federer’s victory never seemed to be in doubt anymore. Ending the match on an exclamation mark of serving strength, Federer completed a stunning comeback 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 win in three hours and 17 minutes in what might go down as one for the ages.