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Maldives To Melbourne: Federer, Cilic Meet For Title

Roger Federer and Marin Cilic were both in The Maldives on vacation at the end of November, following the 2017 ATP World Tour season.

“I didn't want to bother him. He didn't want to bother me,” Federer recalled following his semi-final on Friday. “After two days, he wrote me: ‘I'm here, too, in case you want to catch up and stuff, let me know’.”

The pair practised twice for 45 minutes and even got together for drinks with their families.

“It's great fun. No coaches, no nothing, just the two of us on the court hitting balls,” Federer said. “It was just nice and laid back, to get to know the man behind the tennis player.”

Now the setting will be on Rod Laver Arena instead of a tropical island and the stakes will be infinitely higher, as the Swiss attempts to claim his 20th Grand Slam title and retain his Australian Open trophy against Cilic, who defeated Federer en route to his lone major triumph at the 2014 US Open.

“It would be amazing,” said Federer, who can join Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson as the only players to win six Australian Open titles. “I can't believe how fast now the week has turned out to be. Yeah, I mean, it ain't just an easy trip to the finals. There's always a lot of work that goes into it during the tournament.”

But with that being said, the World No. 2 has been impressive, advancing to the final without dropping a set. Federer can join Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg atop the record book by winning a Grand Slam without losing a set three times. The Swiss could become the first to do it in Melbourne.

Less than a year after Roger Federer defeated Marin Cilic for the 2017 Wimbledon title, the Swiss will look to claim major No. 20 against the Croatian in Melbourne.
Cilic will be a tough test, though. The 29-year-old beat top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals one round after taking out No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in a three-hour, 27-minute battle. The right-hander can become the ninth man in the Open Era to oust the top two seeds at a Grand Slam if he defeats Federer. Only four have accomplished the feat at the Australian Open.

And if Cilic earns the title, becoming the first Croatian to do so, he will avenge a loss against Federer in the 2017 Wimbledon final. Cilic was once again in form, defeating four seeds en route to the final, but blisters hampered his chances against the now 19-time Grand Slam champion.

“I'm not looking at it as a revenge. I mean, it was on me that I couldn't give my best in Wimbledon. And that happens,” Cilic said. “But for me it's great to again be in the final, giving myself another opportunity to win a Grand Slam. I'm playing very good tennis, and definitely very excited for the rest of 2018.”

Cilic will have to continue playing at a high level to have a chance against Federer, who leads the pair’s FedEx ATP Head2Head series 8-1.

A year ago, the Swiss took Melbourne by surprise when he won his first Slam since 2012 Wimbledon as the 17th seed after six months off due to injury. But this time Federer arguably entered the fortnight as the standalone favourite after winning an ATP World Tour-leading seven titles, including two majors (Australian Open, Wimbledon), in 2017.

“I just have to play a good match. At this point it's not about having to improve anything in particular,” Federer said. “I'm just pleased that actually my game has been good from the very beginning of the tournament so far. I mean, I've won all my matches without dropping a set. Clearly I was a bit lucky against [Tomas] Berdych in that first set [in the quarter-finals]. But things must be all right if I'm in this stage right now not having dropped a set and in the finals.”

Federer also has the advantage of a lopsided FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Cilic. The 36-year-old, who is the fifth-oldest (36 years, 173 days) to advance to a Grand Slam final in the Open Era, has won their past three meetings, and three of four at the majors. But the Croatian believes that he has worked hard to set himself up in the match with a fighters’ chance.

“I think in tennis, in general, if you are not improving, you are getting worse as a player, because everyone else is improving... you have to always find a way to get better and better,” Cilic said. “I did good analysis I think of the last season. Found some things that can improve my game, some small details in the game that I focused on. It's working really nicely in the start of this year.”

Cilic will hope that it is enough to earn him a second Grand Slam title, as the pair competes for 2,000 ATP Rankings points and $4,000,000 in prize money. The runner-up will fly home with 1,200 points and $2,000,000.


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