Fantastic Federer rolls back the years to make Slam history with comeback triumph against Cilic
For a man who has won more Grand Slam singles matches than any other player in history, it is perhaps apt to say that Roger Federer does not know when he is beaten.
For the first two and a half sets on Centre Court yesterday, the Swiss veteran looked shot. It seemed as if he was powerless to prevent Marin Cilic from driving him off the court in the quarter-final and out of Wimbledon.
Federer could not read the Croat's booming serve, could not stay in enough rallies, create enough chances to break and was being pushed deeper and deeper behind the baseline. Cilic won sets one and two, had Federer at 3-3 and love-40 in the third and spurned three match points in the fourth.
The World No.3 refused to say goodbye, and fuelled by the roars of Centre Court found reserves of energy, relied on his brilliant second serve, took the game back to Cilic and improved as the match wore on until he was hitting winners for fun by set five and took the match 6-7 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-3.
"The dream continues," Federer said. "I couldn't be happier. I was in so much trouble in the third and the fourth sets but I fought hard and played great at the end. It was a big battle. It's great winning matches like this, coming back from two sets to love, but I got a bit lucky."
Cilic, the World No.13, is coached by Goran Ivanisevic. He presumably knows he and his team will have some heavy bandaging to do to heal the wounds this defeat will cause.
Federer, 34, has overtaken Martina Navratilova with 307 singles wins at Grand Slams. Although he claims not to be aware of the record, how he'd love to add two more. And the crowd at SW19, no matter who he beats en route, would barely begrudge this all-time great claiming an eighth crown and 18th Slam.
Another big server, Milos Raonic, awaits in the semi tomorrow, the World No.7, coached by John McEnroe, having beaten Sam Querrey, the conqueror of Novak Djokovic, in four sets on Court One, 6-4 7-5 5-7 6-4.
Cilic, 27, beat Federer in straight sets in the semi-final of the 2014 US Open, his only Slam success, and the Swiss admitted this week he was "blown away" back then and wanted revenge.
But for an hour and a half it looked like history repeating itself. Federer, who sat out May's French Open due to a back injury and who went under the knife for the first time in his career earlier this year, looked like his time in SW19 was up.
The 6ft 6in Cilic was raining down 130mph serves and although Federer was still producing the odd classic, he was being forced to rush.
The first set was tight, Cilic saving the only break points created in the fifth game with a deft volley and a huge serve, and was settled on a tie-break when the Croat raced into a 5-0 lead.
At the start of the second, Cilic was like a runaway train with Federer powerless and the Swiss was broken in the third game. It looked ugly for Federer and sad for the crowd. The set was spirited away in a flash by Cilic.
In the third set, Federer, normally so cool and unflappable, swished at a ball after serving long; a rare moment of anger. He could feel it slipping away. Sure enough, at 3-3, Federer found himself in a corner at 0-40 on his serve - but he fought back and broke Cilic in the next game.
At 5-4 Cilic had his first match point at 30-40 on another Federer second serve but tensed up.
The fourth set tie-break was a marathon. Federer spurned set points as it swung from 6-4 to the Swiss to 7-6 to Cilic and another match point but the Croat dumped a Federer second serve into the net: 7-7, 8-8.
Cilic dropped in a double fault: 9-9. Eventually, Federer took it 11-9. He put his foot to the floor and almost broke the Croat in the first game of the fifth set. Instead, he had to wait until the eighth and at 4-3 up he played a gorgeous running backhand down the linet. Cilic was done. Federer sealed the game, set and remarkable match with an ace.
"It's better to be here than booking a jet," Federer said. "This is huge for me, my season, my career. I'm very, very happy."