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Ricky’s preview and prediction for the Wimbledon final: Federer vs. Cilic

It will be a rematch of one of last summer’s most memorable Wimbledon moments when Roger Federer and Marin Cilic clash one more on Sunday at the All-England Club, this time with a Grand Slam title on the line.

In a 2016 quarterfinal showdown, Cilic led Federer by two sets to zero only to see the Swiss surge from behind for a 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3 win. That pushed Federer’s head-to-head series advantage to 6-1 and they have not squared off since. If Federer’s 2016 Wimbledon comeback was impressive, Cilic’s lone win over him was nothing less than remarkable. In the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals, the 6’6” Croat was pretty much unplayable in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 rout that led to his first slam title 48 hours later.

Both players have been close to if not at their absolute best throughout this event, to the extent that they are clearly the cream of the crop on grass at the moment–at least given the physical issues being dealt with by Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

For the third time in his career, Federer booked a spot in a Wimbledon final without surrendering a single set to any opponent. The former world No. 1 made short work of Alexandr Dolgopolov (via second-set retirement), Dusan Lajovic, Mischa Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Tomas Berdych to reach his 11th Wimbledon final overall. He is 30-2 in 2017 with titles at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells, Miami, and Halle.

Given his own current form and his draw (with Murray having a hip issue and Rafael Nadal struggling at the All-England Club since 2012), Cilic was always a serious contender to be the top-half finalist. That turned out to be just the case, starting with convincing blowouts of Philipp Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer, Steve Johnson, and Roberto Bautista Agut before more difficult wins over Gilles Muller (five sets) and Sam Querrey (four). The sixth-ranked Croat is 22-5 since beginning the season with a dreadful 7-8 record.

“It’s a nice change,” Federer said when asked about running into someone other than Murray, Nadal, or Djokovic in a Grand Slam final. “But it doesn’t make things easier, in my opinion.”

Cilic faced Kei Nishikori in his only previous major title match and cruised 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. It goes without saying that a date with a red-hot 18-time Grand Slam winner will be a much different proposition.

“I believe this is [Federer’s] home court, (the) place where he feels the best and knows that he can play the best game,” Cilic explained. “Obviously I’m going to look back 12 months ago…. I was one point away from winning a match over here against him. Definitely I believe in my own abilities to get through and to win it.

“But I still know that it’s a big mountain to climb. Roger is playing maybe one of his best tennis of his career at the moment; having a great season. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Cilic at his peak is one of the few players who can trouble Federer right now, and he is capable of doing it even on grass. His serve, when it is really clicking like it did three years ago in New York City, is one of the most ferocious in the game. The underdog can also take time away from Federer because he hits so big off both sides from the back of the court.

That being said, Federer has been just about flawless during these two weeks. These are his unforced error totals in six previous matches: seven, 15, seven, 10, nine, and 19. Cilic got away with some breakdowns off his backhand wing against Querrey, but he will not be able to get away with any of that on Sunday–not against Federer in a slam final.

Although this will almost certainly be Federer’s toughest test of the tournament, it continues to look like nothing will stand in his way of an eighth Wimbledon title.

Pick: Federer in 4

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.