Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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In all the 49 years since tennis turned professional, no player has tried so many times to reach the Wimbledon final before finally getting there.
On his 11th visit to the All England Club, Marin Cilic came back from a set down to make it a quintet of career victories without reply over Sam Querrey, the lowest-ranked Grand Slam semi-finalist in eight years. These two rarely call it a match unless it goes the distance, but the No.24 seed would pay a weary price for the successive trio of five-setters he won to reach his maiden Slam semi.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, triumphed 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5 in four minutes under three hours, to become just the second Croatian into the final here after Goran Ivanisevic in 2001. It is not often that two opponents’ mutual history provides such a rich seam of relevant fancy-that information. If you were aware only that Cilic led their previous career jousts 4-0, you might wonder what there could be left to discuss. So sit comfortably, because here it comes…
Three of those four meetings were on grass, with two at Wimbledon; both those SW19 contests, in 2009 and 2012, went to five sets, with the more recent concluding 17-15; overall their matches had featured seven tie-break sets, of which Cilic had won four; and that 2012 meeting of theirs became the second-longest men’s singles in Wimbledon history, lasting five hours and 31 minutes. So it was appropriate to see survivalist Bear Grylls peering down from the Royal Box, as it seemed certain to be a test of endurance.
Lo and behold, it was less than the shock of the century that the first set culminated in a tie-break. Each had mini-breaks, but the pivotal moment came at 6-6, when a spectator was taken ill in the stands and a three-minute delay ensued. On the resumption Cilic delivered two backhands which were the very definition of unforced errors. For only the second time in their playing history, Querrey – the first American man in the semi-final of any Slam since 2009 – had the opening chapter in his pocket.
Yet in the opening skirmish of set two, Querrey – who defeated world No.1 Andy Murray in the last eight – fired off mistakes to allow Cilic the very first break point of the match. It went by, as did another at 2-2 which had the Croatian roaring in frustration. But at 3-3, Querrey found himself at 0-40, and this time a backhand winner had Cilic yelping in celebration. Something in the American suggested understandable weariness. This time there would be no tie-break, and the match was level.
Just 12 months ago, Cilic was two sets up against Roger Federer in his third successive Wimbledon quarter-final, before tasting bitter defeat. Now the 2014 US Open champion was breaking new ground by reaching the last four in 2017.
Intent upon continuing, his energised ambition contrasted with Querrey’s apparent tiredness, as the latter fended off handfuls of break points before being broken for 1-2. Yet he levelled, and if there can be such a thing as an unexpected tie-break in a match between these two, it materialised. But errors from Querrey gave Cilic two set points, and he greeted his winning crosscourt forehand with a great cry of: “Idamo!” (Teach yourself Croatian: “Here we go!”)
And go he did. This time there would be no fifth set for these two members of the 6ft 6ins club. After an exchange of breaks, the American made three errors to give Cilic two match points, and with eyes blazing, the Croatian powered a forehand to capture victory.
So after more than a decade of trying, Cilic is into the Wimbledon final – by a statistical quirk, the very first No.7 seed in the Open era to reach the last two here. For reasons that have nothing to do with mere good fortune, unlucky No.7 has come good at last.