It may not have been his greatest victory, but it came pretty close to feeling that way after Roger Federer completed a five-set comeback win to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.
“Whew, a lot happened out there,” Federer summed up accurately after defeating Marin Cilic in their quarterfinal meeting.
Federer, in search of his eighth Wimbledon title, remains the sentimental favorite among tennis watchers and the Centre Court crowd. But, despite an easy road to the elite eight, question marks remained over Federer’s fitness as he faced off against Cilic, the man who beat him at the 2014 US Open en route to winning the title.
Early on, it appeared Cilic was poised to repeat that straight sets results from New York. Cilic dominated the first two sets with massive serving and dominating in most of the rallies. In a flash, Cilic held a two sets to love lead.
With things on serve in the third set, it felt like time was running out for Federer.
But that’s when the match went from inevitable to incredible.
Cilic blinked by serving a double fault handing Federer a 5-3 lead. Federer soon wrapped up the third set to the delight of Centre Court.
While Federer is admired for his artistry and shotmaking on court, the later stages of this match showed off skills from Federer that don’t get talked about enough.
Federer, with steady problem solving and steely resolve, slowly began making inroads on Cilic’s serve.
Not that it got any easier.
“It just kept being rough. Like I explained, maybe I got of maybe not even a read on the serve, I just got more into the rally, started to free up a little bit. I felt like, okay, this was the first life. I’m not going to get many more after this. At least play some free points, try to go for it a little bit, get some balls back, you never know. I was just not being able to do it for such a long time because of Marin.”
Federer and Cilic wound up in a fourth set tiebreak that had everyone on the edge of their seats. Cilic held several match points while Federer held several set points. Finally, Federer pulled out the tiebreak to force a deciding set.
It would have been a massive letdown if Federer had not pulled off the comeback. But he didn’t disappoint as he wore down Cilic in the final set. Cilic, now making more errors, dropped serve at the wrong time giving Federer a 5-3 advantage.
Federer served out the 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 victory and celebrated one of the most remarkable wins of his career. Federer wagged one finger in the air in jubilation and as if to say to the crowd “I’m not done yet.”
“I feel sorry for Marin but the dream continues for me,” Federer says. “I played super great at the end.”
— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) July 6, 2016
Federer isn’t done yet as he faces Milos Raonic in the final four. But everyone is aware that the 34-year-old Federer will not play tennis forever, as much as everyone hopes he will. In a matter of a few hours, Federer avoided a three-set loss that would have sounded the usual chatter about how much longer does Federer have and if he’s still a contender for a major title.
Federer answered all of those questions with a resounding “Yes”, even if he doesn’t raise the trophy in a few days. Champion or not this fortnight, Federer added one more remarkable chapter to his incredible story.
Many are still wondering how Federer pulled off that great escape. Like most magicians know, any great conjuring trick to make it work takes years of practice to refine. Federer’s victory was no trick, but simply a combination of years of experience, hard work, and still being able to come up with incredible shots just when he needed them.
Federer may not have used sleight of hand to earn his remarkable win, but for those watching, it still felt like magic.