Wimbledon 2016: Roger Federer produces one of the greatest comebacks of all time to make the semis
Roger Federer during his epic victory (source: Tom Jenkins)

Roger Federer's dream of an eighth Wimbledon title remains alive after he came back from the dead to defeat Marin Cilic in five sets in a thrilling quarter final.  Coming back from two sets-to-love down for the tenth time in his career, the Swiss' great escape was finally sealed after just over three hours in a 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9), 6-3 victory.

The crowd are stunned as Cilic produces brilliance     

You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone inside Centre Court as the players marched onto the grass who would have seriously foreseen the events that would unfold.  With most of the talk centered on the likelihood of the Swiss storming past Cilic on his way to an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon title, the idea that it would be the Croat who would dominate the opening two sets instead would have caused one or two within Centre to scoff in disgust.  

Far too often it is forgotten that Marin Cilic is a grand slam champion in his own right, and having quietly manouvered his way through an open draw, defeating the likes of Brian Baker and Lukas Lacko to the loss of only one set, this may have been the first glance many would have had of the Goran Ivanisevic's giant prodigy.  

A nervy start from Cilic would have given off the wrong impression to those baying for Croat blood, as the experience of Federer led to early break point chances.  However, as it would do so often throughout the day, Cilic's thunderous serve was there to drag him out of the hole.  

'Yeah I mean, a lot happened out there.'  Roger Federer would say after the match and given the drama that had taken place, these words seemed to understate it.  

As the play evened up, it became increasingly likely that a tie-break would be the only way to separate the two, but the comfortable nature of Cilic's romp to the first set would completely juxtaposition that which had gone before.  Racing into a 5-0 in the tie-break, before a mini-revivial threatened to derail him, Cilic eventually sealed the first set on an error from Federer.

Having failed to make it past even the third round of a grand slam so far in 2016, including a first set defeat in Paris to Marco Trungelliti, Cilic still remained very much the underdog at this stage, and he seemed to relish that role.  Beginning to pounce on a flurry of backhand errors, Cilic broke in only Federer's second service game to grab the momentum.

Cilic looked destined to finally make his first Wimbledon semi final, but Federer had other ideas. (Source: Sporting Life)
Cilic looked destined to finally make his first Wimbledon semi final, but Federer had other ideas. (Source: Sporting Life)

Peerless serving continued to follow to give Federer no chance in the set, with Cilic at one point having won 95% of his first service points, and soon the set was sealed and the crowd could barely grasp what they were seeing.  

Could the impossible become a reality? 

Roger Federer had come back from two-sets-to-one down nine times in his career before they players took to the court, the most recent being ironically in the 2014 US Open against Gael Monfils.  However, having been on the receiving end of a near-perfect two sets of tennis so far, a tenth time looked unlikely. 

'You hope so (that you can comeback), but you know, I could hardly see his serves and thought he was playing really well.  So for me it was about staying in the match and hoping I could turn it around.'

Roger Federer   

But as so often is the case when a lesser player, for want of a better term, faces an elite, the mental battle can be the hardest part.  As the third set began in earnest, the dominant serving of Cilic seemed to falter whilst Federer upped the ante to quickly get on top.  

The set looked to have reached its closing act, with an incredibly tight game in the middle, as Cilic raced into a 0-40 lead on the Federer serve and the groans from the crowd told the story better than the amber lights of the scoreboard.  However, in an act of escapism to match that of the legendary Harry Houdini, a run of brilliant points kept Federer in the match, and in the Championships.

This would prove crucial when a fragile Cilic was ruthlessly pounced upon by a hungry Federer in the very next game to be broken for the very first time in the match.  The noise from Centre could be heard throughout SW19.  Within no time at all, the set was sealed and suddenly the impossible looked possible. 

As the fourth set unfolded, it became abundantly clear that this was the match of the Championships so far and the newly found level of Federer only added to the wonderful occasion.  A flurry of all court tennis, even from the usually static Cilic, produced mesmerising stuff.  The momentum continued to swing one way then the other.  

If there was a member of the Houdini fan in the crowd, they would surely be claiming royalities after the match from the Swiss, as on four separate occasions, he dragged himself back from the abyss towards the end of the fourth set.  Saving match points at 4-5 and then 5-6, a topsy-turvy tie-break threatened to go the way of Cilic as he opened up match points, but Federer's escape act went on.  As Cilic dumped a ball into the net at 9-10 to seal the set for Federer, the comeback looked more of an inevitability than improbability.  

The greatest of fightbacks is finally sealed with an ace

Although the first half of the fifth set played out as evenly as the first, it was the Swiss who eventually pounced on his opportunity when a break point chance arose at 4-3.  Cilic refused to wilt on the first opportunity to take the game to deuce but could do nothing to prevent Federer breaking on his second chance. 

One of the greatest Wimbledon comebacks of all time was sealed when Federer sent an ace firing past Cilic, who looked deflated as the ball crunched past him, whilst the crowd could hardly contain their joy. 

'Marin is such a wonderful player, and I knew I was under so much trouble.  It is great fun playing against him but obviously the dream continues.'  Federer said after the match.   

The last time Federer came back from two-sets-to-one down at Wimbledon, he went on to win the title.  With Milos Raonic awaiting in the semi finals, how dearly he will hope this proves to be a good omen.