The ageless wonder Roger Federer will appear in his 30th Grand Slam final on Sunday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.
Federer, 36, hasn't lost a set in Australia, and he earned a trip to the final after Hyeon Chung retired in the second set of their semifinal match.
Cilic's road to Sunday's final has featured more bumps, as he went into five sets with Rafael Nadal before the No. 1 seed retired in the quarterfinals. The Croatian player has also played nine sets that have gone to a tiebreaker, and only three of his victories have come in straight sets.
No. 6 Marin Cilic def. Kyle Edmund, 6-2, 7-6 (7-6), 6-2
No. 2 Roger Federer def. Hyeon Chung, 6-1, 5-2 (retired)
No. 6 Cilic vs. No. 2 Federer
Federer's Road to 30th Grand Slam Final
Aljaz Bedene, Jan-Lennard Struff, Richard Gasquet, Marton Fucsovics, Tomas Berdych and Chung haven't stood much of a chance against Federer in Australia over the last two weeks.
Federer began the quest for his 20th major championship with a straight-set win over Bedene in the first round that lasted an hour and 39 minutes. Federer had 12 aces compared to two from Bedene and earned a 41-21 advantage in winners.
The 19-time Grand Slam winner needed just under two hours to dispatch of Struff in the second round, with a third-set tiebreak being the only difficulty Federer suffered. Federer only broke Struff's serve three times, but they all came at key times during the match.
Federer won his ninth consecutive match against Gasquet in the third round, as the 29th-seeded Frenchman was broken five times by the Swiss champion. Federer hit 12 aces and recorded 15 more winners than Gasquet in the third-round match.
The No. 2 seed only won three of his 10 break points against Fucsovics in the fourth round, but the Latvian never had a chance to break Federer, who won 83 percent of his first-serve points.
Berdych, the 19th seed, appeared to be ready to give Federer a test in the quarterfinals, but after falling in a first-set tiebreak, he couldn't pry a set off the No. 2 seed. The victory was the ninth in a row for Federer over Berdych.
Federer was only on the court for an hour and two minutes in the semifinal round after Chung retired due to a foot injury.
"I've played with blisters in the past and it hurts. A lot," Federer said, per the tournament's official website. "At some point, it's just too much and you just can't take it anymore, and when you realize there's no way you can come back and you make things really worse, it's better to stop. That's why this one is bittersweet. I'm really happy to be in the finals, but not like this."
The final presents Federer with a familiar opponent in Cilic, who he's faced in a major tournament in three of the last four years. Federer won the last Grand Slam meeting between the two in the 2017 Wimbledon final and has won three straight matches over Cilic, including a five-set thriller in the 2016 Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Cilic's Path to 2nd Grand Slam Final Meeting with Federer
While Federer hasn't lost a set in the 2018 Australian Open, Cilic dropped a set in his first match of the tournament against Canadian Vasek Pospisil.
The No. 6 seed appeared to have an easy match with Pospisil, but then he lost the third set and was pushed to a fourth-set tiebreak before securing the victory.
The second round gave us a look at how dominant Cilic can be, as he cruised to a straight-set win over Joao Sousa—a match in which he recorded 40 winners and 20 aces and won 93 percent of his first-serve points.
Cilic needed two tiebreaks to eliminate American Ryan Harrison in the third round. In that match, the No. 6 seed hit 53 winners compared to 24 from Harrison and fended off five of the six break points earned by his opponent.
The first of two difficult contests against Spanish foes came in the fourth round, as Cilic needed four sets to dispatch No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta. After losing the first set in a tiebreak, the Croatian won the second set 6-3 and followed that up with tiebreak wins in the third and fourth sets.
Cilic returned to the Australian Open semifinals for the first time since 2010 after Nadal retired with an upper leg injury in the fifth set of their quarterfinal showdown. After a rough start, Cilic brought all the momentum into the fifth set following a 6-2 win in the fourth set.
We don't know if Cilic would've beaten Nadal if the Spaniard wasn't hurt, but the Australian Open finalist did have the momentum heading into the fifth set.
Cilic surged into his second Grand Slam final against Federer in less than 12 months with a three-set win over Great Britain's Kyle Edmund in the semifinals. After he secured his spot in the final, Cilic explained to the tournament's official website why he's relishing the championship tilt with Federer.
"I think you have Roger as a player who has been one of the most successful at these stages of Grand Slam, and also at Grand Slam level I think his performances were such a long period of time, especially when it gets to quarterfinals, semifinals, finals, he's getting better and better and better and playing great tennis," Cilic said. "So with him it's always a big challenge."
Cilic is looking to perform better against Federer than he did in the 2017 Wimbledon final, which he lost in three sets 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
The good news for Cilic is he now has experience against Federer in a Grand Slam final to go along with his own past success in championship matches from his 2014 U.S. Open title. Although defeating Federer in a final is no easy task, Cilic appears prepared to challenge the all-time great.
Prediction: Federer def. Cilic in four sets.
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