The Swiss got off to a blistering start to win the opening set, and while Cilic did grow into the match, the quality the second seed consistently showcased was the difference in Melbourne at the Rod Laver Arena.
The victory not only sees Federer retain the title he won a year ago, but it also take his haul of Grand Slam titles to 20. The 36-year-old is now a six-time winner of the Australian Open.
It was clear just how much it meant to him:
In a Grand Slam final against Federer, a strong start is imperative. Cilic, who appeared besieged by nerves early on, did not get one.
As Christopher Clarey of the New York Times noted, it didn't take the defending champion long to effectively secure the opening stanza:
Cilic finally got a game on the board at the sixth time of asking and at least got some rhythm into his serve before the end of the set. Federer, peerless in the opening exchanges, secured two holds to wrap up the opener.
It was an ominous beginning for the Croatian, who was struggling to overpower Federer as he has done to so many opponents on his way to the final.
The second set was much more competitive. Cilic saw a couple of break points slip by early on, and while Federer did apply pressure when receiving, the sixth seed was able to keep his composure on break points too.
Journalist Simon Cambers picked up on the improvement in Cilic's game:
At 5-4 ahead in the second stanza, Cilic let a set point slip, and Federer was able to push the second set into a tiebreak. In it, Cilic served exceptionally. After moving 6-4 ahead, he took the second of two set points with an overhead smash.
It was the first set Federer had lost in the tournament, but a man of his immense experience was able to shake off the disappointment quickly.
At 3-2 in front in the third, the Swiss was able to grab a decisive break and consolidate. By the end of the set, Federer was in control on serve and starting to find some brilliant angles, as we can see here courtesy of the competition Twitter account:
There was no let-up from the great man at the start of the fourth, either, as he smothered the Cilic serve and picked up an early break thanks to an unforced error. Suddenly, after Federer consolidated, it was looking like a long way back for the Croatian.
Cilic dug in. He saved another break point, held and then for the first time in the match found a break of his own.
Momentum was with him, and after nudging 4-3 ahead, Cilic went after the Federer serve, breaking to move 5-3 in front. A routine hold next up meant the final was to be decided in a fifth set.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash was impressed with the fightback:
It's a situation Federer has been in so many times before, and he showed that familiarity at the start of the fifth, breaking Cilic at the first opportunity.
As Stuart Fraser of The Times noted, there was plenty of tension in the air:
Another hold saw Federer put some daylight between himself and Cilic. And while in the previous set the champion let his opponent back into the contest, there was no danger of concentration slipping in the fifth set of a Grand Slam climax.
Indeed, the veteran was able to up the ante further, as he wore Cilic down in the sixth game and pushed two breaks ahead. From there, as he has done so effectively throughout his career, Federer closed out the match with a swagger.