Novak Djokovic’s shock exit in the first week of Wimbledon immediately saw the tournament described as Roger Federer’s latest best chance, perhaps his last chance, to win an 18th Grand Slam title. With the dominant world No. 1, the man who has stood in Federer’s way of adding to his record haul of major titles in the final of Wimbledon for the last two years, gone, the Swiss’ odds for the title dropped considerably.
Federer is unlikely, though, to have gotten carried away. And if he needs a reminder of the dangers of looking too far ahead with the world’s best player out of the way, a quarterfinal with Marin Cilic on Wednesday should do the trick.
The last time Djokovic failed to reach a Grand Slam final came at the 2014 U.S. Open, when the Serbian was upset by Kei Nishikori. Federer was immediately installed as favorite for the title ahead of stepping out onto the court for his own semifinal against Cilic, a man he had never lost to in five previous matches. Less than two hours later, though, Federer joined Djokovic out of the tournament after Cilic produced a straight-sets demolition.
“Everything he touched went in,” Federer said when asked for his memories of that meeting ahead of their first meeting since that clash on Wednesday. “I don't know. It was all right, here is a chance, boom. Maybe here is another chance, boom. That's kind of how it was for three straight sets. I didn't play poorly in any way. It was just all on his racquet. It was very seldom that I was blown off the court like that.”
Cilic went onto stunningly win his first Grand Slam title with a win over Nishikori in the final. And it was Nishikori who Cilic beat to set up another meeting with Federer, after the Japanese fifth seed retired at 6-1 5-1 down in the fourth round.
It has been a difficult road for Cilic since his breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, with injuries playing a big part in his failure to seriously contend to add to his first Grand Slam crown. But now fully healthy and having dropped just one set on his route through to the quarterfinals, Cilic is eyeing a repeat of his last meeting with Federer.
“That was definitely one of my best matches in my career, and we haven’t’ played since then so that could be another good thing for me that I can just look back at that match and see what things I was doing really well,” he said. “I’m definitely playing well at the moment. I’ve had a lot of ups and down in these last 12 to 18 months so I have to to get back to playing great tennis and keep that for a longer period of time.”
For Cilic, it is a place in the Wimbledon quarterfinals for a third straight year. And the good news is that this time it won’t be Djokovic standing in his way of reaching the last four for the first time. The bad news is that he will now take on the most successful player in Wimbledon history, with seven titles and three other appearances in the final to Federer’s name.
And, despite playing seldom since the Australian Open and missing the French Open through injury, Federer has cruised through to the Wimbledon quarterfinals without dropping a set. His victory over American Steve Johnson in the fourth round saw him equal Martina Navratilova’s record of 306 wins at Grand Slams. Now, further history is in the 34-year-old’s sights.
Prediction: Federer in four sets
Match Time: 8 a.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN