The statistics do not look good for Marin Cilic. As he prepares to face Roger Federer in Sunday’s men’s singles final here at the All England Club the 28-year-old Croatian will be all too aware of the weight of history that is on the side of his 35-year-old opponent.
Cilic is aiming to become the first player outside the “Big Four” – Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray - to win this title since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Indeed, he is only the second player (after Milos Raonic) outside that elite group to reach the final since 2010.
The world No 6 has one Grand Slam title to his name, having played the best tennis of his career to win the 2014 US Open, but for the most part he has struggled to upset the odds in the biggest events.
Cilic has lost 11 of his last 12 matches against top five opponents at the Grand Slam tournaments, his only victory having been against Federer in New York en route to that 2014 title.
His head-to-head record against Federer does not provide much reason for optimism either. The win at Flushing Meadows was Cilic’s only victory over the Swiss in their seven career meetings, though their quarter-final encounter here last year was very close. Federer came back to win from two sets down and saved a match point.
“Obviously I'm going to look back to that match 12 months ago,” Cilic said.
“I definitely believe in my own abilities to get through and win.
“I would say that I'm now in a little bit better form, maybe just slightly mentally stronger, maybe learned a few more lessons, valuable lessons. But it’s still a final. It's never easy to deal with it. You never know how your emotions are going to be when you enter that Centre Court.
“I'm believing that I have the ability and that I have a good game. I’ve played really well during the tournament. That is obviously very important in giving me a lot of confidence to prepare for this final.”
He added: “I still know that it's a big mountain to climb. Roger is playing maybe some of the best tennis of his career at the moment and is having a great season, so I know it's going to be a huge challenge. But I believe I’m ready.”
Cilic, who will climb into the world’s top five for the first time if he wins, is aiming to become only the second Croat to claim the title here following Goran Ivanisevic’s 2001 triumph.
For Federer, meanwhile, the stakes are even higher. The Swiss is hoping to become the first man in history to win the singles title here eight times. He currently shares the record of seven with William Renshaw and Pete Sampras.
At 35 years and 342 days Federer would also be the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open era. In winning this year’s Australian Open he became the oldest men’s Grand Slam singles champion since 37-year-old Ken Rosewall won Down Under in 1972.
Sunday’s final will be Federer’s 102nd match at Wimbledon, which equals the men’s Open era record currently held by Jimmy Connors. He is competing at his 70th Grand Slam tournament, which equals Fabrice Santoro’s record total, and his 19th successive Wimbledon, which equals Connors’ all-time mark.
Federer would also become only the second man in history – after Nadal, the 10-times French Open champion - to win the same Grand Slam event eight or more times. He is already the first man to reach 11 Grand Slam finals at the same event, while his 29th Grand Slam final will put him seven clear of Nadal, the second man on the all-time list.
“It makes me really happy to be making history here at Wimbledon,” Federer said. “It's a big deal. I love this tournament. All my dreams came true here as a player. To have another chance to go for number eight now, to be so close at this stage, is a great feeling.”
Victory would continue a remarkable year for Federer. Since taking a six-month break in the second half of 2016 to rest a knee problem he has come back to play some of the best tennis of his career. After his victories at the Australian Open and the Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami, he now feels ready to complete his greatest triumph of all.
“I was just totally surprised by Australia, Indian Wells and Miami,” Federer said. “I was hoping to be in good shape when the grass-court season came around.
“The first three or four months were just like a dream really. This was something I was working towards, to be in good shape at Wimbledon. I'm happy it's paying off here now.”
He added: “I think where the past Grand Slam finals, the days between the semi and the final, help me is just to stay calm throughout the process. The good thing is that I'm not carrying an injury like I did a little bit in Australia, where I had a hamstring problem. I’m feeling good this year, so that really relaxes you in a major way.”