LONDON: Roger Federer’s wait for number eight at Wimbledon is over.
He is once again the champion of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament, now more often than any other man in the history of an event first held in 1877.
Federer won his eighth title at the All England Club, five years after landing his seventh, and 19th major trophy overall, capping a marvelous fortnight in which he never dropped a set by overwhelming injury-hit Croatian Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday in a lopsided final that was more coronation than contest.
However, the Swiss superstar’s 11th Wimbledon final, and 29th at the majors, will also be remembered for the moving sight of the popular Cilic breaking down in tears after slipping 3-0 behind in the second set.
The seventh seeded Croatian, the 2014 US Open champion, sobbed inconsolably and buried his head in his towel as his title dream slipped away.
He had his left foot taped at the end of the second set but it was in vain as Federer became the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win Wimbledon without dropping a set in the entire tournament.
“He’s a hero,” Federer said of his opponent.
The Swiss maestro was challenged early on but once he broke a nervous Cilic in the fifth game of the opening set the match became a no-contest.
Not that Federer was concerned as, 23 days before his 36th birthday, the father of four became the oldest men’s singles champion at Wimbledon in the professional era, succeeding Arthur Ashe, who was almost 32 when he won in 1976.
It continued a remarkable resurgence by Federer who returned from six months off at the start of the year to win the Australian Open — ending a five-year wait for an 18th Grand Slam many thought would remain elusive.
Now he has 19 and looks capable of adding more.
“I’ve got to take more time off,” Federer joked as his twin girls Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, who were there when he beat Andy Murray in the 2012 final, and twin boys Leo and Lennart, who were not, watched their father kiss the trophy he first won in 2003.
“Not to drop a set it’s magical, I can’t believe it just yet, it’s too much really. It’s just belief, that I can achieve such heights. I wasn’t sure I would ever be here in another final. But I always believed I could maybe come back and do it again.”
Cilic, who had spent four and a half hours more than Federer getting to the final, said retiring with his injury was never an option.
“I never give up in a match. I gave it my best — it’s all I can do,” said Cilic who was still emotional at the trophy presentation.
“I had an amazing journey here. I played the best tennis of my life. I really want to thank my team -- they gave so much strength to me.”
Beneath a star-studded Royal Box where Prince William and wife Kate rubbed shoulders with actors Hugh Grant and Bradley Cooper, Cilic had his first break point in the fourth game.
It was saved by Federer and it was to be Cilic’s only glimmer of hope.
Federer broke in the next game when his opponent suffered a nasty fall on the worn surface which was to ultimately undermine his challenge.
Federer then served up two love service games before claiming the opener 6-3 off a Cilic double fault, the Croatian’s second of the final.
The Swiss superstar swept into a 3-0 lead in the second set and at the changeover, Cilic slumped in his courtside chair in tears and in obvious pain.
The trainer and doctor were summoned before Cilic hid his head in his towel in a desperate attempt to compose himself.
The 28-year-old held serve on the resumption but the lethal barrage continued, Federer stretching his lead over his friend to 4-1.
Cilic dropped the set 6-1 and called a medical timeout to have his left foot bandaged and take a painkiller.
His discomfort was reflected in his statistics.
By the end of the second set, he had served just two aces compared to the 130 he had fired past bamboozled opponents in his previous six rounds.
Federer pounced again with a break for 4-3 and wrapped up the one-sided final with a second serve ace to complete his coronation after just 1hr 41 minutes.
Fittingly, he too wept at the end.
Federer skipped the clay-court circuit, missing the French Open, to be in top shape for the grass courts he loves so dearly. Sunday’s victory made Federer’s record 31-2 in 2017, with a tour-leading five titles.
He is back to being supreme in tennis, lording over the sport the way no man has.
“It’s magical, really,” Federer said. “I can’t believe it yet.”
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2017