Roger Federer spent almost 5 years making an attempt to win his 18th Grand Slam title, scraping and clawing, falling and rising, and enjoying in 15 main tournaments earlier than lastly including that elusive trophy to his report haul. Lower than six months later, he is on the cusp of profitable No. 19 at his very subsequent Slam.

A title wouldn’t solely prolong Federer’s all-time lead in complete majors, however would break a impasse with Pete Sampras for probably the most profession Wimbledon titles (eight), in his eleventh ultimate, which is already a report for any man at any Slam. He’ll go into Sunday’s match having gained 27 consecutive units, with simply two losses on his ledger for the yr.

His opponent Sunday will not be certainly one of his nice rivals – the truth is, it’s going to be the primary time since 2009 that Federer performs somebody outdoors the Huge 4 for a Slam title, ending a run of seven straight finals towards one in every of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Murray – nevertheless it’s a participant who’s given him all types of issues within the current previous.

Know your historical past

As Federer was fast to level out, Marin Cilic annihilated him when the 2 met within the US Open semis in 2014, and of their following – and most up-to-date – assembly, in final yr’s Wimbledon quarters, he almost did so once more, going up two units and incomes three match factors earlier than Federer got here roaring again.

Cilic is a monster as soon as he will get rolling, and he might give Federer’s fairy story an sad ending. He is received a vicious serve, wonderful timing, and walloping groundstrokes, and the grass courtroom amps up these weapons. He is a deceptively good mover, able to find funky angles and hitting winners off the again foot. He is additionally confirmed that he will not essentially be fazed by no matter legend or aura or overwhelming crowd help Federer brings to bear on Centre Courtroom.

In that US Open match, Cilic stored Federer pinned behind the baseline, choking off his deadly forecourt assault with constant depth and weight behind his photographs. Federer gained lower than half his internet factors. He by no means acquired his legs into the match, by no means acquired a toehold in Cilic’s service recreation, and by no means constructed up any momentum.

It might appear a bit pat, however that is how Cilic can swing the upset on Sunday. He must play all offense, on a regular basis; must be exact and various together with his service sample; must go for his photographs, even the low-proportion ones. He wants get on prime of Federer early, and stop him from bouncing up off the mat. Perception could be a magical elixir on this sport, so merely having executed it earlier than ought to assist.

”He is aware of what it takes,” stated Cilic’s coach Jonas Bjorkman, in line with the Weekly Normal’s Tom Perrotta. ”He is aware of the way it feels to be on the market, and he is aware of what it’s to be beneath the strain like that.”

Only a regular tennis participant once more

These final two matches additionally require caveats. Specifically, that the Federer of 2017 shouldn’t be the Federer of 2014 or 2016. He is more healthy, he is performed a lighter schedule, and his type has been on one other degree.

“This yr I am only a regular tennis participant once more, the place I can give attention to techniques,” Federer stated, in accordance with Perrotta. “I feel that is the distinction. I am enjoying very nicely. I am rested. I am recent. I am assured, too.”

This yr’s Federer has been timing his photographs with the precision of a metronome, one way or the other capable of sq. the ball up whereas taking it so early that his opponents barely have time to complete their swings earlier than his subsequent shot is whizzing previous them and into the nook. Typically, he performs up to now contained in the courtroom that he will not even hassle letting the ball hit the bottom, whacking swing volleys quite than ceding courtroom place. Cilic might discover it more durable to push him again than prior to now.

Federer’s renewed dedication to hitting over his backhand has additionally made him a menace to show factors round and hit winners from any place. It is opened up new prospects for his clever development of factors. And it is made him extra of a menace within the return recreation, which means Cilic should be notably correct together with his first serve. Even mammoth-serving Milos Raonic managed to win simply forty two % of his second-serve factors towards Federer within the quarterfinals.

Cilic’s return recreation is not his power, so if he is dealing with strain on his personal serve, issues will get dicey for him in a rush.

Maintain your head

Although he is dealt with some high quality opponents within the run-as much as the ultimate, Federer will face by far his largest problem of the event in Cilic. The assured Croat will not make it straightforward for Federer to settle right into a rhythm, and has the combination of energy and consistency to maintain him underneath strain.

Federer hasn’t confronted a lot adversity all through the primary six rounds – cleaving by means of his draw with out dropping a set – and it will be fascinating to see how he responds, if and when he does. Ditto for Cilic’s mindset, if he ought to occur to seek out himself in a profitable place. In a matchup that would develop into a maintain-for-maintain staring contest, who blinks?

Federer nonetheless will get the good thing about the doubt, however do not be shocked if Cilic topples him.

THE PICK: Federer in 4 units.

HOW TO WATCH: ESPN (U.S.) or TSN (Canada), Sunday at 9:00 a.m. ET.

(Photographs courtesy: Motion Photographs)