2018 AO Final: Federer v Cilic Preview


As hard as this is to believe, I don’t have much to say.

Federer should win this match v Cilic for a number of reasons. His level, variety, history, career confidence, H2H with the Croatian, the players’ friendship (it’s genuine), the night match conditions, his staying power helped by his reduced draw rigor, possibility of #20, perhaps a bit of karma. . .and that’s of course where this preview and the entire predictability gets squirrely.

To be fair, Cilic’s decent chances to win this match rest on his own level, confidence, big serve and ground strokes (potential to employ an unplayable first-strike tennis that can hit anyone off the court), his net play, beating Nadal, routine SF and extra day-off giving him added staying power, etc.

Both men make a case to win; but more sensible people lean probably Federer.

The word “sensible” is where this, again, gets a little squirrely.

Too many non-sensical things happen in this sport (in life). I mentioned karma up there as I described Federer’s winning elements. Federer has karma may seem like the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said (we are not going to get into a character argument here about Federer, how he deserves this based on his ethos, generosity, or whatever might ignite that fanbase’s rationale).

Federer should have 20+ majors by this point in his career, his 2017-18 second act notwithstanding. At 17 majors as long ago as 2016, he should’ve had 20. Indeed, he has let several (and I mean a handful or so) slip through the strings on his at-one-time-too-small-of-a-racquet. Are we recounting the misses here? No. If you have followed tennis throughout this era (hopefully even prior to that), you have the context and the consciousness to understand this argument. It’s empirical. Pure and simple. Sure, all players have near-misses, but the historical consistency of Federer gift-wraps this perspective (along with some of those matches that left many just shaking their heads).

And yes there is a bit of karma on the side of Cilic. His massive breakdown in the 2017 Wimbledon final pops-up as righteous evidence. He was in fine form that fortnight, for sure. He had basically beaten Federer in a 2016 WB QF before allowing the ailing Federer to come-back from 0-2 sets. Cilic has a ton of class, but, like so many ATP talents in the last 16 or 17 years, has more often than not come-up short against the legends.

We were all over the case for Cilic back in July ’17, mainly because we’d watched him throughout the short European grass court season (WB warm-up) and loved what he was doing, even the fact that he’d been beaten in the Queen’s Club final by Feli Lopez (’twas some brilliant grass tennis), seemed hungrier thus and determined as he made his way through some tough matches to come face-to-face with Roger in that Wimbledon final.

The aforementioned H2H is worth combing: 8-1 to Federer, but the loss was a biggie and seems relevant as we contemplate tonight’s final. That was the unplayable Cilic who can remove any opponent’s stick, thank you very much: enjoy your runner-up status. Is Cilic there at this point?

What complicates this line of reasoning is the following: is Roger there (USO 2014 level) at this point?

This match seems less about the breakdown of skills and strategy, and even percentages (although we know the match hinges on percentages: FS, BP, net, etc.) and more about the macro narrative, the big picture.

Does Cilic consolidate 2014 or does Federer get #20, putting even more special sauce on this reemergence of the Swiss great, his second act, his enduring ruination of the sport. 😉

I will say this (with all things being equal: Fed’s BH being strong, especially the DLT, even the slice to force the Croatian low, both men serving and hitting well, etc.): if Federer’s ROS shows-up tonight, Cilic will be in for a long night. Cilic needs that serve to pummel the Swiss for him to get a foothold on this match.

As for the lack of much resistance in Federer’s draw (I haven’t said a thing about that underwhelming SF with Chung), I would say Cilic’s draw wasn’t any tougher. I will acknowledge the massive mental win against Nadal, being down 1-2 sets and a break before coming-back, but the Spaniard’s hard court quality wasn’t there.

Even though Cilic lost that third set TB 5-7, the score should suggest that Nadal pretty much squeaked by for a fairly flimsy lead and Cilic had to have seen the damage being done to Nadal at that point. Cilic won 8 of the next 10 games before Nadal called quits.

For Federer, sure the SF was a non-event, but he was still sharp (though not necessarily with the serve of course). His ground strokes look solid. And I would just point to the first set v Berdych as a nice window into Federer’s form and resiliency. Down 2-5, Federer was in big trouble against another big hitter who was killing his draw, which included a Del Potro who had been playing well (unless there’s some injury I’m not aware of).

Turning the tables on a rampant Berdych there was even a bit lucky, but the Swiss pulled it off. Federer’s confidence, I assume, is pretty high, as well.

So, yeah, the match boils-down to the Cilic serve/Federer ROS, imho, again: all things form being pretty equal. If Federer’s FS% is around 55 to 60%, that’s trouble, for sure.

Enjoy the tennis. I like Federer’s chances tonight, quite a bit. But we’ll see what the tennis gods have in store. Cilic has certainly earned this opportunity (2/3 finals at the last 3 majors).

Enjoy the match!

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