Australian Open 2018 Men's Final: Roger Federer vs. Marin Cilic Preview

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2018

Switzerland's Roger Federer makes a forehand return to South Korea's Hyeon Chung during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Defeating Roger Federer in a Grand Slam final is one of the hardest tasks in sports. 

The 19-time major tournament winner has only lost to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro in Grand Slam finals.

The No. 2 seed at the 2018 Australian Open will square off against No. 6 Marin Cilic for the second time in a Grand Slam final in Sunday's men's singles final at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. 

Cilic does have one major title to his name, the 2014 U.S. Open, but he's only 1-8 all time against Federer.

                    

Federer Looking to Repeat in Australia

Federer began his return to prominence at the 2017 Australian Open, at which he qualified for his first major final in more than a year and captured his first Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2012. 

After outlasting Nadal in five sets at last year's Australian Open, Federer went on to win Wimbledon in straight sets over Cilic.

Although Federer makes it look easy on the court, the 36-year-old recently admitted there's still a lot of work that goes into each tournament.

"It isn't just an easy trip to the finals," Federer said, per the tournament's official website. "There's always a lot of work that goes into it during the tournament, focus, and also preparation beforehand. This is something you sort of plan from a long time ago. That's why when it does happen, it's a great feeling. Rewards the hard work in my team."

The Swiss legend appears to have a distinct advantage over Cilic ahead of his seventh Australian Open final since he's won each of his matches at this year's tournament in straight sets and played one full set in the semifinals before Hyeon Chung retired because of a foot injury.

Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

In six of his past seven Grand Slam finals, Federer has lost at least one set, with the lone exception his meeting with Cilic last year at Wimbledon.

Federer has lost four sets in his eight career wins over Cilic. He dropped a set in the 2011 U.S. Open third round, two in the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinals and another one in their most recent meeting in the round-robin portion of the 2017 ATP Finals. 

Even though he hasn't been perfect in his recent championship matches, Federer has been pretty close to achieving perfection at the 2018 Australian Open, and a straight-sets win Sunday would wrap up one of the best tournament performances of his career.

                    

Cilic Trying to Put an End to Federer's Dominance

If Cilic wants to draw on past experiences against Federer to prepare for Sunday's final, there are three recent matches he can pluck things from.

The first would be the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinal showdown in which he pushed Federer to five sets. Although that was on grass, Cilic should be able to use some of the things that went right for him to pick apart the all-time leader in Grand Slam victories.

Cilic can look to the 2017 Wimbledon final as an example of what not to do against Federer when he's in what seems to be an unbreakable rhythm. In that match, Cilic had his serve broken on five occasions and only won 65 percent of his first-serve points and 39 percent of his points on second serve.

The final contest against Federer in which the sixth-seeded Croatian can learn from is the Swiss' three-set victory at the 2017 ATP Finals, where Cilic won the first set in a tiebreak.

Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Just like the match at Wimbledon, Cilic struggled with first-serve points, as he only won 70 percent of them compared to the 77 percent Federer notched in the same stat category.

If Cilic can thrive on his first serve and put Federer under pressure early, he has a chance of claiming his second major title.

It doesn't hurt that Cilic is feeling confident about his performance in Australia, which he hopes will carry him to success Sunday.

"It's big motivation for me to play that final and obviously to win, and I'm feeling really good with my game, and so hopefully I can have a great match and also great energy on the court," Cilic said, per the tournament's official website.

                      

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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