Australian Open Day 14 Preview: The Men’s Final
In his 30th major final, Roger Federer is seeking his 20th major title. Just 15 years ago, these were unfathomable numbers. There was speculation at the time as to whether anyone would catch Pete Sampras’ record-breaking 14 major titles, and look where we are now. His opponent has quietly yet convincingly made his way to his third major final, and is looking to cement his status as a future hall of famer.
Roger Federer vs. Marin Cilic
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It’s hard to believe it was just a year ago that Federer arrived in Melbourne having not played a competitive match for six months, and with low expectations for his chances in the tournament. One year and two major titles later, Roger is coming off his best season in a decade. Just as he did at Wimbledon last summer, Federer has not dropped a set en route to this championship match.
As Marin Cilic recently spoke about to the press, his two previous major finals were very different experiences. In winning his maiden Grand Slam title at the 2014 US Open, he stormed through the draw, easily defeating Federer in the semis and Kei Nishikori in the final. But six months ago at Wimbledon, a visibly distraught Cilic was hampered by severe blisters on his feet in the championship match against Federer, and unable to play his best tennis. Throughout the fall, Cilic seemed to struggle with some nerves, and he overcomplicated several matches that initially appeared to be straightforward victories. At the ATP Finals, he was the only player to go 0-3, losing all three matches in three sets, including a loss to Federer. But Cilic has rounded into strong form during this fortnight, playing the same brand of big-hitting tennis that won him his only major title to date.
Roger Federer leads the head-to-head by a substantial margin of 8-1, but the only loss did come in the semifinals of a hard court major. That was an extremely hot and humid day in New York, and a match Cilic won in straight sets. The forecast on Sunday in Melbourne also calls for extreme heat, but the difference on this day will be this is a night match. Their best head-to-head match was in the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinals, which some named as the match of the year. On that day, Federer came back from two sets down to prevail, savings match points along the way. That’s the kind of match that definitely leaves some scar tissue in a rivalry.
Cilic will need to walk a thin line between playing as aggressively as he can without going for too much. Marin is fully capable of hitting Roger off the court when he is at his best and Roger is less than his best. Federer is yet to have an off day during this fortnight, but perhaps the 36-year-old is due for one. You know Federer will be pumped up for his opportunity to win his record-extending 20th major, but even the GOAT must feel the pressure of being an overwhelming favorite on such an occasion, right? All being considered, while I expect this to be a much tighter match than their last major final in July, all signs point to a Federer victory.