Australian Open Final 2018 Preview Marin Cilic Vs Roger Federer

Australian Open Men Final

Photo courtesy of www.beritagol88.com

Second seed and defending champion Roger Federer will take on sixth seed and first time Melbourne finalist Marin Cilic to win the 2018 Men’s Australian Open trophy. The Tennis Review previews the action and predicts the winner.

Paths to the final

Federer came into the Australian Open as the favorite and he has lived up to that status by reaching the final without dropping a set. He has had his awkward moments, such as late in the third set in the third round versus Richard Gasquet or at the start of his quarter-final versus Tomas Berdych, but he has lifted his game each time, producing his best tennis of the tournament in that last eight match versus Berdych.

That form rolled over into the semis when Federer dominated Chung in the early stages of their match, taking advantage of the Korean’s hampered movement, but the Next Gen Finals champ was finally beaten by a blister and retired a set and 2-5 down in the second set, a result which meant Federer did not get a competitive match going into the final. Federer said after the match that he will take a short semi, though:

 I must admit, as well, you do take the faster matches whenever you can because there’s enough wear and tear on the body, there’s enough tough matches throughout the season that when they happen, you take them

Cilic also had a struggling opponent in his semi, Kyle Edmund, the unseeded player going down in straights. The British player did play very well in the second set, however, and Cilic  handled his status of favorite well, raising his game to win the set, and taking control of the match in the third.

Another encouraging sign for Cilic is that the Croatian is the more match tough of the two finalists courtesy of a tougher path to the championship match. The sixth seed dropped a set to Vasek Pospisil in round 1, (a stage of the tournament in which Cilic is more vulnerable than most top seeds), a set to Pablo Carreno Busta in round 4, and two sets to Rafa Nadal in a match in which he played some of his best tennis of the tournament in the third set yet still lost it.

Coming through both that Nadal match, one Cilic did not ‘win’ the way he would have liked to, but one in which he was the fittest of the two and survived, and the Busta test playing some of his best tennis is the kind of preparation Cilic needs before facing five time Australian Open champion Federer in the final, the Swiss’ seventh down under.

The Serve

The Croat also looks to have the edge when it comes to the serve, the potential deal breaker in this match. Neither player has been unbreakable-Federer has been broken four times in three of his matches (twice by Berdych in the first set, once by Gasquet, and once by Struff) and Cilic has been broken nine times in four matches, (four times by Carreno Busta, twice by Nadal, twice by Pospisil, and once by Harrison)- but Cilic has the higher first serve percentage coming into the final with 67 in both his last two matches.

Meanwhile, Federer had a low first serve percentage of 43% in the nearly two sets he played versus Chung (granted, that figure could have risen) and had 63 % in his win over Berdych, 1% more than his 12 month average, but that first serve percentage is one Federer will want in the high 60s to mid 70s, at least, in the final because while Cilic’s return game is not his strength, he will welcome any second serves, especially in tiebreaks or at the business end of a fourth or fifth set, and if he welcomes them too warmly, if he gets hot, Federer could end up getting burned.

Head to head.

Federer can tell you all about Cilic burning you.

Federer has an 8-1 head to head lead over Cilic, but his one loss was a very significant one, a defeat in the US Open 2014 semi finals, in straight sets, and at a time Federer was competing in slam finals and involved in a tussle for the No.1 ranking. That day, Cilic redlined, producing a standard of tennis we have not seen from him since.

Federer got his revenge, and his second slam win over in last season’s Wimbledon final when he defeated an injured and visibly upset Cilic in straight sets for his 20th slam title. That victory was his third slam win over Cilic, the first coming at the 2011 US Open, which he won in four sets, and the second coming at the 2016 Wimbledon event when he saved 3 match points to beat the Croat.

The match-up.

That Federer and Cilic’s fourth slam contest is this year’s Australian Open final is no real surprise. Federer and Cilic are two of only six active slam champs in the draw, the reigning Wimbledon champion and finalist, and have games tailor made to succeed on a medium fast surface like the Australian Open’s plexi-cushion .

Both have great serves, both have weapons at the back of the court which can generate plenty of short balls, and both have an aggressive mind set and like to play inside the court and at the net. Also, while neither rely on their returns as strengths, both will take risks on the second serve, especially in a match versus a fellow big server in which they will get few chances and in which sets will likely go to tiebreaks.

But those strengths are as far as the similarities go: Federer serves more consistently, with unparalleled variety, and serves better under pressure; Federer also has a more effective and efficient aggressive game; from the baseline, if Federer is kept back there, he is the stronger off both wings, more versatile and less likely to break down under pressure; and, if there are risks to be taken on second serves, Federer’s will be the more calculated. 

The biggest gulf between them, though, is the mental side of the game and how they handle pressure. Federer is a great front runner while Cilic has a history of letting winning leads slip, one of the most infamous being that match against Federer at Wimbledon ’16.

If Federer gets his grip on a match, he very rarely lets go, if Cilic gets his hands on a match, it can slip before he has even fully grasped it.

Cilic has not had any slippery moments, however, this last fortnight- whenever he has suffered any disappointment in a game or set, the sixth seed has rebounded and raised his game.

As well as being in good mental condition, Cilic is in good physical shape, too. The 2010 Australian Open semi-finalist, his best showing at the event until this year, said after his semi-final win that:

 I’m feeling really, really good physically, even though I had few matches that went more than three hours. But overall, feeling really good. I think I played great tournament so far with my level of tennis…I think I improved it comparing to end of the last year. I’m playing much, much more aggressive. I’m feeling that I am, for most of the shots, hitting them really, really good. From the return, moving, forehand, backhand, serving, I think everything is in good, solid spot. Feeling really excited about the final, too.

An excited and healthy Cilic is going to be the most difficult opponent Federer has faced so far this tournament and one he is not going to underestimate, the Swiss always showing the utmost respect to the Croat when asked about him, having himself been on the receiving end of one of the few active Major champion’s slam winning game.

Prediction:

Slams are where Cilic thrives, the Croat winning 102 matches in 41 slams compared to 89 ATP 1000 matches won in 80 events- best of five sets give him the space to recover from the dips he has in form as much as the format allows for him to let winning leads slip- and if Cilic is able to produce his best form, Federer would, in turn, raise his, and we could get the best possible final on a medium-fast hard court.

There are, however, too many ifs attached to a Cilic win – if he played his best like he did at the US Open, .. If Federer has an off day,…If Cilic is stronger mentally in big matches than he has been in the past– and so a Cilic win would be a surprise, and in some ways, a good one. We would either see Cilic playing some of the best medium-fast court tennis we are likely to see in a slam final right now or we are going to see a new Cilic, one who toughs it out versus an in form Federer, who maybe manages to win despite not playing his best, but playing the big points better, which Cilic has never done at this level versus an opponent playing well. Such revelations from a player are one of the rewards of following them and any of the afore-mentioned scenarios would be quite the pay off for Cilic fans.

With Federer, it is a completely different story. We know only too well what we are getting- the Swiss, on form, playing in his 7th Australian Open final against a rival he matches up very well with, the player most qualified to get the slam won.

With slam No.20 on the line and the clock ticking on Federer’s slam winning days, what we will get is, most likely, a four set Federer win. Cilic is not going to go down without a fight, not after coming back from the hurt that must have been the Wimbledon final loss in such style, but Cilic will need a killer punch to win this one, and Federer is too good at seeing them coming in these conditions, too skilled at blocking such blows, swinging one of his own, and then never letting up.

 

 

 

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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