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There are only two men from Croatia who have made the Wimbledon final. Goran Ivanisevic was first when he reached the final at All England Club not once but four times. It is only unfortunate that twice in his path stood a man who was then the man to beat on grass. Buoyed by his thundering serve-and-volley game with the forays to the net more precise than ever and accuracy of serve bigger than ever, this man from Lake Sherwood, California, was the one to beat at SW19. And the first time, another American (Andre Agassi) stopped him from lifting the famed golden trophy, who had a completely differently style of game.
But in 2001, he broke his jinx by beating Australia’s Patrick Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. After numerous deuce points, Ivanisevic in his preferred style of serve-and-volley, served for the match and saw Rafter’s forehand hit the net. In sheer jubilation, Goran fell to the grass and celebrated what would be his first and only Grand Slam title.
Now a second Wimbledon finalist has emerged from the tiny Central European nation – Marin Cilic. Like Ivanisevic, Cilic faces an arduous ask when he takes court on Sunday at Wimbledon. In his path will stand Roger Federer – a legend of the sport, considered one of the great, and going after his record eighth Wimbledon title and 19th Grand Slam.
There are plenty of paths that collide in this story. Cilic was coached by Ivanisevic for three years till July, 2016 and now he’s looking to edge the former Croatian tennis legend with two Grand Slam titles (Marin had previously won the 2014 US Open). Should Federer win, which considering his sublime form looks probable, he would be winning his eighth Wimbledon – going past Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon titles. It is worth noting and remembering that Federer’s most memorable Wimbledon moment is his win over Sampras in 2001.
As Federer, at 34, pushes for a record eighth Wimbledon, he is looking to become the tournament’s oldest champion since 1930 and he’s already the second oldest man in Open Era to reach the Wimbledon final with Ken Rosewall holding the record doing so in 1974 at age of 39. The age factor has already been defied when he came back from injury and six months out in 2016 to win Australian Open – a five setter against arguably the fittest player on tour only adds to his aura.
There are plenty more facts and figures that add to his social media moniker of ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time). This year, he has 30 wins and just two losses and he’s reached his 11th Wimbledon final without dropping a set. In fact, ever since his early exit in Stuttgart, Federer has won all his matches without dropping a set.
“I was hoping to be in good shape when the grass court season came around,” said Federer who skipped the clay court season to be ready for the grass court tournaments and it has paid dividends. “The first three, four months were just like a dream really. So this is something I was working towards, you know, Wimbledon, to be in good shape. I’m happy it’s paying off here now.”
“It makes me really happy, making history here at Wimbledon. It’s a big deal. I love this tournament,” said Federer, who is looking to win his first Wimbledon since beating Andy Murray in the 2012 final. “All my dreams came true here as a player. To have another chance to go for number eight now, be kind of so close now at this stage, is a great feeling. Yeah, unbelievably excited. I hope I can play one more good match. 11 finals here, all these records, it’s great. I’m so close now.”
The difference between Federer and Cilic and their experience can be ascertained by a simple statistic: Cilic is into his 1st Wimbledon final in 11 attempts while Federer is into his 11th Final.
With a win, Cilic would break a four-pronged hegemony that has existed in tennis for over a decade. A win would also make him the first Wimbledon champion outside of the ‘big-four’ (Federer, Murray, Novak Djokovic and Nadal) since Lleyton Hewitt won in 2002. But it won’t be easy and the crowd would favour the Swiss – considered royalty by some – and Cilic knows that. “This is Roger’s home court, the place where he feels the best and knows that he can play the best game,” said Cilic. “Obviously I’m going to look back, 12 months ago I was one point away from winning a match against him here. But it’s still a big mountain to climb,” he added.