Roger Federer might be the grand old man of men's tennis, but there are very few, still, that can stand up to him when it comes to the mental and physical fitness stakes. In danger of being blown out of Centre Court by Marin Cilic, Federer found the gear that only the true greats have to pull off a brilliant five-set victory in a wonderful quarterfinal match at Wimbledon on Wednesday.
Down two sets to love and facing three break points in the third, Federer, who will turn 35 next month, stepped up when he needed to, played the big points better and eventually prevailed 6-7 (4-7), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9), 6-3 in three hours and 17 minutes.
The first four games of the match went in a hurry, with both players using their big serves to good effect. The first set had a tiebreak written all over it, even after Federer failed to take advantage of a couple of break points in the fifth game.
So it proved to be as well. Federer had an awful start in that tiebreak, losing the first five points to hand Cilic a big lead. While the great man did well to cut the deficit down, there was no way the Croatian was going to throw away such a big advantage and the tie break went in his favour 7-4.
If Federer was expected to make a comeback in the second set, the fans at Centre Court, pulling for their non-British favourite son again, were left disappointed as Cilic continued to dictate the pace of the match.
Federer is usually the one who sets the tone, asking questions of his opponent, but in this quarterfinal, for the first two sets at least, Cilic was the one posing all the difficult questions, with the Swiss unable to find the right answer often enough.
Any second serve of Federer's was attacked by the Croatian, with the former US Open winner going all out with his forehand. Federer is someone who usually seems to have all the time in the world to play his shots, but against Cilic, in those first two sets, he looked hurried, and, as a result, the winners did not come around quite as often and there were quite a few short balls on offer for Cilic to put away.
Cilic broke the Federer serve in the third game of the second set and while he had to fight to hold serve immediately after, from that point there was only going to be one result.
Down two sets to love, Federer already had his back to the wall, but it only got worse when the 17-time Grand Slam winner, seven of which came on this court, found himself at 0-40 in the sixth game of the third set. If he were to go a break down, there was only going to be one winner, and realising the magnitude of the situation, Federer suddenly found that gear which only exalted champions like him can find.
The backhand started working, the serves got him out of trouble, and after ringing in five straight points to hold, Federer took that momentum into the next game to break the Cilic serve for the first time.
Just like that, the momentum shifted camp and Federer was back in the match, only a set down now.
However, to Cilic's great credit, he did not collapse, when most might have. He kept at it, sticking to the plans that had worked for him so well in the first couple of sets, and while Federer continued to show signs of improvement – some of his backhand winners were out of this world -- the Swiss just could not crack the Croat's serve, while he was hanging on a few times in his own as well.
And so, the fourth set went to the tiebreak. There would be big early lead for Cilic this time around, as the two players crossed over tied at 3-3. A solid serve for Federer to 4-3, and then the heavens seemed to smile upon him. A deep backhand return was called long by the line judge, Federer challenged the call and the Hawk Eye showed the tiniest possible amount of the ball, one single hair on it maybe, touching the line. That mini-break soon saw Federer jump into a 6-4 lead, giving him two set points, one of those on serve. However, a near-unbelievable miss from the great man, an inside out forehand that went way long, gave Cilic the mini-break back and with an ace coming next point off the big man's racquet, it was back on level terms at 6-6, before another huge serve gave him a set and match point.
An unforced error from Cilic on second serve got Federer out of jail, and it was back to the roulette wheel again. Federer held his second point on serve to force another set point, but Cilic pulled off an absolutely marvellous pass down the line to bring it back to 8-8. A double fault next point, however, much like in the third set, opened the door up for Federer again, but the Swiss just could not take the opportunity and, again, it went back level at 9-9.
Federer would not be denied, though, as two Cilic errors handed him the fourth set and pushed this remarkable quarterfinal into a decider.
The No.3 seed took control of the final set, forcing the pace and getting the errors out of Cilic and that pressure finally paid off in the eight game, when Federer got the break to take a 5-3 lead, before serving out the match in some style.
Federer will now play Milos Raonic in the semifinal, after the Canadian knocked out Novak Djokovic's conqueror Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 in two and a half hours
The second semifinal will be played between Andy Murray and Thomas Berdych, after the two picked up quarterfinal wins in contrasting fashion. While Berdych defeated Lucas Pouille in straight sets 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-2, Murray let go of a two-set lead before managing to see off the terrific challenge of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (12-10), 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1.