As Federer and Cilic settled to their task under the Rod Laver Arena roof on a scorching hot Melbourne Sunday, there was little hint of the drama to come. Cilic, who had only beaten his rival once in nine previous meetings, was as nervous as a kitten, while Federer was in his element.
After a handful of minutes the defending champion had raced to a 3-0 lead, while Cilic had won four points and was already two breaks down. Federer was cool in the heat of battle, and he was utterly focused on the business of crushing the life out of his opponent.
Cilic, meanwhile, was all over the shop. At first, he looked nervous but after four games, he just looked lost. The world’s greatest front-runner had shot out of the blocks and sped into the distance. Cilic was so far behind, he could barely see Federer’s dust, much less eat it.
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As Federer wrapped up the opening set in the briefest of brief 24 minutes, Cilic had to find the reset button. Like a computer on the blink, Cilic needed to reboot in the hope that he could get just some of the component parts of his game working properly.
But when he did, when he finally got that forehand working, he was pushing Federer out of the way in the charge for the title.