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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, July 6, 2016

 
Roger Federer

"It was about staying in the match and hope for his level to drop maybe a little bit and get a little bit lucky. That's exactly what happened," said Roger Federer after advancing to his 11th Wimbledon semifinal.

Photo credit: Getty Images

The ball was a blur, reaction time rushed and desperation looming as Roger Federer found himself stetched into unfamiliar defensive positions on Centre Court.

A commanding Marin Cilic made the third seed look helpless for two-and-a-half explosive sets.

A resilient Federer responded with calm commitment pulling off one of the most pulsating comebacks of his career.

Watch: Federer On Comeback Confidence

In a match of staggering intensity and stunning plot twists, Federer fought off three match match points rallying from a two-set deficit to edge Cilic, 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3, and advance to his 11th Wimbledon semifinal.

"It's a big battle," said Federer, who won his first five-setter since roaring back from two sets down to defeat Gael Monfils in the 2014 US Open quarterfinals. "It's great winning matches like these, coming back from two sets to love. It's rare. When it happens, you really enjoy them. Definitely felt like I got lucky to some extent today. Always when you're saving match points, I don't know, when you're down two sets to love, 3‑All, Love‑40, it's a moment when it's not in your control anymore.

"But I fought, I tried, I believed. At the end I got it done. So it was great on so many levels."

Driving assertive second serves under immense pressure, Federer fired 27 aces, zero double faults and saved seven of eight break points in the three hour, 17-minute thriller.

"Serving was key. It was crucial against a big server not to fall behind in the fifth," said Federer, who completed his 10th career comeback from a two-set deficit. "I was able to do these things. Plus, mentally, this is going to give me a boost. I'm really, really pleased and just ecstatic that I was able to come through somehow."

The seven-time Wimbledon champion reached his record-extending 40th Grand Slam semifinal and attained a milestone in the process. It was Federer's 307th career Grand Slam victory, surpassing Martina Navratilova for sole possession of the all-time record. Federer equaled Jimmy Connors' record for most career Wimbledon semifinals.

It's takes more than deep self belief to envision a comeback when you're barely seeing your opponent's serve.

Knocked out of Roland Garros with a creaky back, the 34-year-old Swiss competed with a steely spine completing a comeback for the ages.

The 34-year-old Federer saved a match point in successive service games at 4-5 and 5-6 of the fourth set then denied the third match point at 6-7 in the fourth-set tiebreak.

"I wasn't seeing his serves anymore," Federer told the BBC afterward. "He had one chance, he took it. Next thing you know you're down two sets to love—on grass that's how it goes. I thought he was playing very well, US Open-esque. On the return he was reading my serve. On the serve, I couldn't read his serve. It wasn't going well for me."

Continuing his quest for a record eighth Wimbledon crown, Federer will play Milos Raonic for a spot in Sunday's final. Federer has won nine of 11 prior meetings with the seventh-ranked Raonic.



Disarming the Swiss with a volatile serve and vicious first strike, Cilic was overwhelming for much of the first three sets.

Playing to join his coach, Goran Ivanisevic and his friend, Mario Ancic, as the third Croatian man to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, Cilic did everything except convert crucial returns off second serves and close a match he once controlled.

The 2014 US Open champion, who dismissed Federer in the Flushing Meadows semifinals, could have won this match in straight sets. He should have won it in four sets.

When the Cilic had the match on his racquet, he blinked.

Then Federer roared.

"For me it was about staying in the match and hope for his level to drop maybe a little bit and get a little bit lucky. That's exactly what happened," Federer said. "I think 3-all, Love-40 to pick up a half volley, I mean it could go in the stands, it stays in. Next thing you know you're still in the match and you can turn it around. Obviously, the breaker was crazy. It was an incredible match."

Tie break tension had been a sink hole for Cilic, who took carried a 7-13 tiebreak record in 2016 into this match.

In today's opening set, it was a launching pad.

Turning his shoulders into his shots, Cilic pulverized a 106 mph forehand crosscourt that rattled Federer's Wilson racquet for a second mini-break and 3-0 lead. Confronting a second serve with menacing intention, Cilic lashed a forehand return down the line closing the breaker with a bang.

The 27-year-old Croatian cracked seven aces and won 21 of 22 first-serve points taking a one-set lead.

Snapping through his serve, the six-foot-six Cilic cruised through nine consecutive serve points slashing aces to close successive love holds for 5-3. By then, he'd won 33 of 35 points played on his first serve often leaving Federer lunging in vain at the buzzing ball.

Kicking a high-bounding second serve into Federer's one-handed backhand, Cilic drew a feeble netted reply rolling to a two-set lead and quieting the pro-Federer crowd.

About the only emotion a muted Federer showed early in the third set was a frustrated "ay, yi, yi!" admonishment after a shank. When Cilic drilled a forehand winner down the line for triple break point in the seventh game, a reeling Federer was right on the edge and the Centre Court crowd was hushed with concern.

Cilic flinched and Federer pounced.

The Croatian's two-hander, such a stable shot for the entire match, failed him on two of the three break points. On the third break point, Cilic badly shanked a backhand return off an 88 mph second serve as Federer escaped with a determined hold for 4-3.

A skittish Cilic skipped a second serve off the tape, gifting Federer's first break of the match. A slider serve gave Federer set point. A backhand drive down the line grazed the top of the tape before settling in the corner as Federer closed the set with a flash and the crowd erupted in approval.





Facing his first match point serving at 4-5 in the fourth set, Federer surprised Cilic with a second serve to the forehand, coaxing an errant reply and eventually holding.

In his next service game, Federer fought off a second match point slamming an ace out wide, cracking another ace in holding to force the tiebreak.

In a tie break of dizzying drama, Cilic saved a set point when Federer sailed a forehand sitter then unleashed two massive serves for a third match point at 7-6. Again Federer showed courage with a bold second serve and again Cilic missed a return netting a forehand.

"I would say obviously in those situations, slight hesitation comes into your body," Cilic conceded. "Legs start not to move, so you have to actually try to focus about the game that you need to play rather than the occasion. In those couple occasions, especially match point in the tiebreak, and even one before on 5 4, I believe, had pretty makable returns on second serves. That was pretty much a shame."

Cilic saved a third set point with a darting backhand pass down the line.




"I believe in my second serve. So even if I go bigger, it's still not that much of a risk for me, I feel," Federer said. "That served me well throughout my career. I think Pete (Sampras) once said, You're only as good as your second serve. I'm happy that my second serve has always been there for me. Yes, I've served double‑faults, served poorly sometimes as well. I feel when it's most important, it's never going to let me down. Today as well.

"That's why I believed, Yeah, bigger second serve, yeah, I can do it. You just hope that he's not there just ready to clock one because then who cares about your big second serve, it's still not a first serve."

Defense triggered the break as Federer was on the full stretch when he flicked a tremendous running forehand. Cilic had a good like at open court down the line but dragged a forehand wide giving Federer a fifth set point. He leveled on a forehand error.

Since defeating Federer in the 2014 US Open semifinal, Cilic has struggled with knee issues and stumbled to a 2-19 record vs. Top 10 opponents. Haunted by missed match-point opportunities, he was victimized by a Federer crosscourt forehand strike for a second break point in the decider. Defending with vigor, Federer drew the error breaking for 5-3.

"I was trying to be mentally inside the game," Cilic said. "Even in the fifth set, I was feeling that I played well. Just in that game where I lost my serve, few of the points that I have lost, he made great passes. That was nothing more that I could do in those occasions. Yeah, just definitely huge disappointment for me losing this way."



The seven-time champion closed a thriller in style, slashing two straight aces and thrusting his arms toward the sky as father Robert Federer embraced his agent, Tony Godsick in the support box and Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper, clad in a burgundy RF baseball cap, leaped from his seat joining the Centre Court faithful in an ovation for both men.

Spare a thought for Cilic, who played dynamic tennis building an imposing lead only to see an inspired Federer exploit his lapses. The pair practiced together before Wimbledon began; Federer's spirited commitment and accurate serving down the stretch sparked a great escape and comeback for the ages.

"Marin's such a wonderful player. I was in so much trouble in the third and again in the fourth It was great fun playing against Marin, he's one of the nicest guys on the tour," Federer said. "So I feel sorry for him, but for me the dream continues. I couldn't be happier because I thought I fought well and played super great at the end so very, very pleased."

Walking toward the Centre Court player entrance, Federer shot a final fist toward an exhilarated crowd looking positively energized by the battle.


 

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