Record-breaker Federer claims glorious eighth
Swiss maestro rewrites history books as he capitalises on Cilic injury to rule at Wimbledon once again, writes Paul Newman
Roger Federer has spent most of his life breaking records and passing milestones but the 35-year-old Swiss celebrated his greatest achievement yesterday on the court he loves more than any other in the world.
Since Spencer Gore claimed the first singles championship at Wimbledon 140 years ago, no man had ever won the title eight times, but Federer finally pulled clear of William Renshaw and Pete Sampras, with whom he had shared the record of seven victories since 2012.
Marin Cilic, Federer's opponent in a one-sided final, was unable to offer much of a challenge because of a painful blister on his left foot which left the 28-year-old Croat sobbing into his towel at a changeover midway through the second set. Cilic was beaten 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 as Federer created history on the same patch of turf where he had made his first breakthrough 14 years earlier.
Federer claimed his eighth Wimbledon title at the age of 35 years and 342 days. Having become the oldest men's Grand Slam singles champion since 1972 when he won the Australian Open earlier this year, the Swiss has followed it by becoming the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open era.
Federer, who will go back to No 3 in today's updated world rankings list, has done it without dropping a set, 12 months after leaving this tournament wondering when he would play next because of a troublesome knee. He ended up taking the rest of the year off, but has returned this year to play arguably the best tennis of his life.
His triumph continues an extraordinary year for the Swiss and his great friend and rival, Rafael Nadal. Federer is only the second man in history - after Nadal, the 10-times French Open champion - to win the same Grand Slam event eight or more times. His win also extends the Wimbledon stranglehold of the "Big Four" - Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray - which stretches back to his first victory here in 2003.
For the fifth time Federer and Nadal have split the first three Grand Slam titles of the year between them, though this was the first time they have done so since 2010. Federer has become the first man to play in 11 Grand Slam finals at the same event, while his 29th Grand Slam final puts him seven clear of Nadal, the second man on the all-time list.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, had gone desperately close to beating Federer in the quarter-finals here last year, but on this occasion the world No 6 was able to offer only token resistance.
He revealed afterwards that his blister had first troubled him in his semi-final victory over Sam Querrey on Friday. Fluid was drained from the blister that evening, but Cilic said it was worse by Saturday morning. He received regular treatment for the next 30 hours but to no avail.
Federer, to be blunt, did not need to be anywhere near his best. Cilic did not put enough first serves in court, made far too many unforced errors (23 to Federer's eight) and never looked capable of holding back the king of Centre Court for long.
After Saturday's women's final had been played under a closed roof because of rain, the conditions 24 hours later were almost perfect. The temperature was a muggy 23C and there was barely a breath of wind inside Centre Court.
Both men made a nervous start but were soon striking the ball well. Federer had to save Cilic's only break point of the match in the fourth game, but it was the Swiss who made the breakthrough.
Cilic, serving at 2-2, put a forehand in the net on the opening point and lost a thrilling exchange on the second, the crowd erupting into a roar as Federer stretched to put away his winner after his opponent had hit a deft backhand cross-court. A loose backhand then saw Cilic go 0-40 down and Federer converted his third break point with two big backhands.
He wasted no time capitalising on his advantage. He appeared to be in total control for the rest of the set and won one point with ludicrous ease, hitting a drop shot winner as casually as if he had been picking up his beer from the bar.
Cilic, meanwhile, went into freefall. Serving at 3-5 and 30-30, the world No 6 got his racquet on one huge backhand from Federer, which drew a gasp from the crowd, only for the Swiss to thunder another which eluded him and landed inside the baseline. Three points later a double fault handed Federer the set after just 36 minutes.
After the Swiss had gone 3-0 up in the second set, Cilic sent for the doctor and trainer at the changeover. He was soon sobbing into a towel, apparently inconsolable, and for a while you wondered whether the final would end in a retirement for the first time in 106 years.
However, Cilic recovered his composure and won the next game. At 1-4, nevertheless, Federer broke again. The Swiss went to break point after returning a 134mph serve - Cilic's fastest of the tournament - and promptly converted it when his opponent missed a volley.
After Federer had taken the second set with an ace the trainer and doctor came back on court to tend to Cilic, who took a medical time-out. The Croat improved in the third set, but at 3-3 he was broken for the fifth and last time after losing two points in a row with netted forehands. Federer served out for his victory, completing the job on his second match point with an ace down the middle after an hour and 41 minutes.
Federer said afterwards that he had not been sure what had been troubling Cilic. "I couldn't tell you if he was struggling moving to his forehand or to his backhand," Federer said.
"He was serving big. He was serve-and-volleying. So I guessed movement for that reason wasn't the biggest problem maybe. When he called the doctor at first I thought maybe he was dizzy or something.
He added: "The atmosphere wasn't like it was a five-set thriller. People want to see a tighter match. I totally get it. But I've had those. I'm happy it was different today." (© Independent News Service)