AO Final: Federer Denies Cilic, Claims 20th Major Title


How would you describe this final between Federer and Cilic?

Better than 2017 Wimbledon? Illustrative of both mens’ tennis character, Federer the best at managing a less-than-stellar form and Cilic so close, so strong at times, but a little clumsy in the end?

Erratic. Uneven. I saw someone else describe it as “lumpy;” not bad.

“Hit and miss” (pun intended)?

The greatest tennis journalism of all time, “Federer In Big Trouble. . .” was written in the very early stages of the third set. I was sensing even through out the second set that the match was turning in a big way.

One of the kickers for me was the fact that Cilic, to that point, had played pretty much bad tennis (especially the first set, of course) yet the match was all even now; all of that inevitability the tennis world saw in the 6-2 first, looking to confirm so many Roger-in-straights predictions, had collapsed and washed to sea. Cilic had recovered. He was fired-up, his FH was alive, he was coming to net with authority. The second set was a foregone conclusion, watching Federer look nonchalant in those BP opportunities, starting to get bullied by the bigger, younger athlete.

Roger’s BH was not nearly the weapon it was in last year’s AO final or throughout the sunshine double, etc. The BH slice last night actually played right into Cilic’s strength — he could run around the slower, softer delivery and condemn Fed with that big FH. Johnny Mac in the booth kept saying “hit the more aggressive FH, which takes time away from the big man.” Federer looked to be acting his age last night, resorting to some bad habits.

One of the take-aways from the 2014 USO SF between these two was how much Cilic picked-on the Federer BH. Cilic pounded that corner of the ad court then and last night. Federer looks pretty troubled in these kinds of exchanges.

Look at the first set of last night’s match where Federer is attacking the Cilic serve. On second serves, especially, Federer is stepping into the court and hitting that BH DTL winner. He was definitive, offensive. That was gone by the second set. And by early in the third, he looked like he was in “Big Trouble.” 😉

The 2-seed looked his age, looked like this match, ironically, would not go in his favor after all of the predictions and that first set clinic. This match was such a good example of a result turning on even a single point. That happened several times in this five set dipsy doodle of a major final.

I claimed Cilic was bailing-out Roger, on twitter ( I got some resistance from a blog acquaintance). Sure, the Federer serve in that third did reach a FS% of +80%. He got the break and like THAT we’re suddenly 2-1 to Federer and Cilic even hands-over the break early in the fourth and almost gave him that fatal second break to give the old man a friendly Croatian chaperone to the trophy presentation.

So, despite Federer’s serve coming out of the woodwork there to keep Cilic from completely running rampant to the finish line, Cilic, for me, really seemed to relinquish that critical momentum he had. Federer should have served-out the match, which would have really confirmed the Cilic fold.

Again, second and early third, Cilic had Roger right where he wanted him. And then the third and early fourth became known as the Cilic bail-out, the Federer FS notwithstanding.

Enter the Federer choke, gifting Cilic the break back at 3-2 in this fourth set, the Croat then consolidating and now the scoreboard pressure on Federer, which looked almost pathetic as he’s broken again, the match again taking a massive swing in momentum.

So who did you have going into the fifth? Right?

Yet the old man comes up with a miraculous hold there early, which just might have broken the back of the new world #3. He’d spent 6+ more hours on court than had Federer. Were the legs and nerves frayed, finished? Perhaps.

Federer finds that clutch here in the 5th to take it home. Done.

The take-away here is how Federer’s serve remains a huge weapon, sorta. My suggestion that the Federer ROS would be key in this match was spot-on in the first set. That looked like a very solid call on the match, steam-rolling the Cilic serve right out of the gates and it looked set-match at that point, Cilic no chance facing that kind of ROS.

But the Federer serve ends-up being a bigger story. His FS success rate, from what I’ve gleaned from some posted numbers, was 60%. That usually spells disaster for you-know-who. But he was to find just enough of that FS in the third and fifth to keep Cilic at bay.

Beyond the serve and ROS dynamic, the UE numbers are pretty telling. Cilic had 64 to Federer’s 46. That was a bit sloppy from the big guy. Both were a bit sloppy, but these numbers show what the eyes saw last night. For instance, the Cilic BH was pretty bad. How many times did his BH, sometimes grossly mishit, find the doubles alley? He buried a few balls into the net at certain stretches too, seemingly bailing-out the Fed serve and tentative composure.

Those dips in Cilic’s form were huge, bigger really than any tremendous form from the Swiss.

Federer’s great claim-to-fame might be his ability to manage his less-than-stellar form through out matches. As brilliant as his tennis can be, his highest quality evoking crazed and devout fanatacism across the globe, poetic verse and abstract art, his ability to win with a sub-standard game might be his real genius. Composure. We see him crack here and there, bark at a line judge, etc., but last night he was able to survive in what amounted to a bit of a street fight, or a high stakes game of cards, needing to almost bluff his way to the championship.

20 majors is absurd, the balance (other than the single FO) really indicative of how dominant is this legacy.

I probably write another little follow-up later today. The criticism of the roof closure, how this affected Cilic and the match in general, is pretty thick on the outskirts of all of the congratulatory text out there. Federer is given favor throughout the fortnight, and so on. The better players usually are, in all sorts of sports, competition, and life. Is it unfair? Sure. But this certainly isn’t Federer’s alone. I’ve already discussed this issue in Melbourne, in particular, in another context.

We can certainly talk more about this, how much it matters and all that jazz.

But, either way, it’s tough not to acknowledge what the guy has accomplished.

Oh, and those tears? Wow. Several thoughts on that.

Is this post a little bumpy, non-linear? Like the match? Good.

I’ll be back later today.

4 thoughts on “AO Final: Federer Denies Cilic, Claims 20th Major Title

  1. Nambi

    Good read as usual Matt…And Great Job by Roger to get it done after up and down battle..

    Can’t wait for follow up Post with more thoughts and insights…

    Its scary out in Twitter War world how Roof Helped, How pathetic field is etc… I couldn’t get my head around how the field is so strong in 2008-2016 as Roger gets stopped by (Rafa and) Novak, but field went so pathetic after mid 2016 standard wise. I wonder how it does even make sense when Novak himself won against that poor vulture Roger last 3 times on GS final…:-)


    1. Jason Bourne

      Good thing that these things about the roof will be gone in the memory hole soon enough. Give it 1 month and we’ll never hear about this anymore.

      Meanwhile, some comments are fun to notice…such as Federer > Liverpool by ManUtd fans. Maybe soon enough Liverpool fans will get the chance to get it back, e.g. Federer 21 ManU 20.

      With Novak seriously considering surgery, Murray’s lingering hip issues, and the youngsters still seem nowhere to challenge the legends, is 2018 set to be a repeat of 2017? It’s hard to envision any other RG winner than Nadal, unless the hip/knee gives way. In that circumstance, the field becomes very open and we will likely see a new GS champion. Wimbledon might be more open but Federer, if in form, will just trump virtually anything. USO may be more of a mystery…but can the maestro win it again after 10 yrs. If he wins Wimbledon, winning USO will take him equal with Steffi in slam count department.


      1. Whether people like it or not, the #20 is pretty much in stone.
        You’re right that some of this distraction of conspiracy, etc., will fade.
        Even my own criticism of Nadal, his favortism, etc., is pretty much hot air.
        The guy has 16 majors, 10 FO titles. Nothing anyone says can change that.

        The rest of the year does now look interestingly like 2017.
        Something has to give. Maybe Novak is okay, or a youngster breaks through. . .
        or maybe Cilic works-out the kinks. He’s close.


    2. Follow-up a little later today.

      Some of the reactions to #20 are like you say, “scary.” Ha ha.
      People still champion their own champion.


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