LONDON — Roger Federer’s wait for No. 8 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 and 19th major trophy overall, capping a marvelous fortnight in which he never dropped a set by overwhelming Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday in a lopsided final that was more coronation than contest.
When it ended, with an ace from Federer after merely 1 hour, 41 minutes, he raised both arms overhead. A minute or so later, he was sitting on the sideline, wiping tears from his eyes.
“I always believed that I could maybe come back and do it again. And if you believe, you can go really, really far in your life, and I did that,” Federer said. “And I’m happy I kept on believing and dreaming and here I am today for the eighth. It’s fantastic.”
He turns 36 on Aug. 8, making him the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open era, and is a father of four. Both of his sets of twins — boys, 3, in their light blue blazers; girls, 7, in their dresses — were in the guest box for the trophy ceremony.
One son stuck a couple of fingers in his mouth; a daughter grabbed her brother’s hand.
“They have no clue what’s on. They think it’s probably a nice view and a nice playground. But it’s not quite like that here, so one day hopefully they’ll understand,” Federer said about his boys.
As for the girls, he said: “They enjoy to watch a little bit. They come for the finals, I guess.”
When Dad is Roger Federer, you can wait until the last Sunday to show up.
Truly, this outcome was only in doubt for about 20 minutes, the amount of time it took Federer to grab his first lead. Cilic, whose left foot was treated by a trainer in the late going, was never able to summon the intimidating serves or crisp volleys that carried him to his lone Grand Slam title at the 2014 U.S. Open, where he surprisingly beat Federer in straight sets in the semifinals.
This one was all Federer, who last won Wimbledon in 2012.
That seventh championship pulled Federer even with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw in what’s still officially called Gentlemen’s Singles. Sampras won all but one of his in the 1990s; Renshaw won each of his in the 1880s, back in the days when the previous year’s champion advanced automatically to the final and therefore was able to successfully defend a title with one victory.
Federer had come close to bettering his predecessors but couldn’t quite do it. He lost in the 2014 and 2015 Wimbledon finals to Novak Djokovic — “Tough ones,” Federer called them Sunday — and in the semifinals last year after erasing match points to get past Cilic in a five-set quarterfinal.
With clouds overhead and a bit of chill in the air, Federer’s early play, in general, was symptomatic of jitters. For everything he’s accomplished, for all of the bright lights and big settings to which he’s become accustomed, the guy many have labeled the “GOAT” — Greatest of All Time — admits to feeling heavy legs and jumbled thoughts at important on-court moments to this day.
And so it was that Federer, not Cilic, hit a double-fault in each of his first two service games. And it was Federer, not Cilic, who faced the match’s initial break point, 15 minutes in, trailing 2-1 and 30-40. But Cilic netted a return there, beginning a run of 17 points in a row won by Federer on his serve. He would never be confronted with another break point.
“I gave it my best,” Cilic said. “That’s all I could do.”
It was as if the first indication of the slightest bit of trouble jolted Federer.
In the very next game, Federer broke to lead 3-2. He broke again to take that set when Cilic double-faulted, walked to the changeover and slammed his racket on his sideline chair. Cilic then sat and covered his head with a white towel.
After Federer raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set, Cilic cried while he was visited by a doctor and trainer. At that moment, it wasn’t clear, exactly, what might have been ailing Cilic. During a later medical timeout, Cilic’s left foot was re-taped by the trainer.
Federer would break to a 4-3 edge in the third set and all that remained to find out was how he’d finish. It was with his eighth ace, at 114 mph (184 kph), part of a total of 23 winners. He made only eight unforced errors.
This caps a remarkable reboot for Federer, who departed Wimbledon a year ago with a lot of doubts. He had lost in the semifinals, yes, but more troublesome was that his body was letting him down for the first time in his career.
Earlier in 2016, he had surgery on his left knee, then sat out the French Open because of a bad back, ending a record streak of participating in 65 consecutive majors. Then, after Wimbledon, he did not play at all the rest of the year, skipping the Rio Olympics, the U.S. Open and everything else in an attempt to let his knee fully heal.
It worked. Did it ever.
Feeling refreshed and fully fit, Federer returned to the tour in January and was suddenly playing like the guy of old, rather than like an old guy.
In a turn-back-the-clock moment, he faced long-time rival Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final and, with a fifth-set comeback, won. It was Federer’s 18th Grand Slam title, adding to his own record, and first in 4½ years. Those who had written Federer off needed to grab their erasers.
The formula made sense, clearly, so why not try it again? Federer skipped the clay-court circuit, missing the French Open again, 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.”
Story: Howard Fendrich