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KEY DATES FOR WIMBLEDON 2017

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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News
Sunday, 16 July 2017 09:59 AM BST
The Preview: Day 13
Centre Court may be waiting for Roger Federer to make history, but Marin Cilic has other ideas READ MORE

Roger Federer says that featuring in the gentlemen’s singles final here at this 131st Wimbledon still feels like a privilege to him.

Yet, of course, it’s very much our privilege too, this sensation that there’s one more cherishable invitation to witness a master working at his zenith on the grandest stage for his art, like Nureyev at the Bolshoi or Pavarotti at La Scala.

Except this is no exhibition, no one-man benefit concert on Centre Court. This is unsentimental, unforgiving sport and while Federer’s adoring global fan club may hold aloft their 'Shhh! Quiet! Genius At Work' banner, Marin Cilic is equipped to create an almighty din to drown out the perfect high note.

Federer needs no warning. He can cast his mind back to a “brutal” shellacking by the Croatian in the 2014 US Open semi-final and to a quarter-final contest on Centre Court just 12 months ago when Cilic had him on the ropes like some free-swinging heavyweight, going two sets up and three times holding match points before Federer somehow fashioned a Houdini act.

That match was a nerve-shredder, perhaps the most exhilarating of the entire season. If today’s contest matches it – and both men are a cut above their 2016 form – it will be one of the classic finals.

And should Cilic lift a second Grand Slam title to add to his Flushing Meadows juggernaut ride three years ago, it would be an era-ending triumph, the first time for 15 years that anyone outside the ‘big four’ of Federer, Andy MurrayRafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has lifted the title.

I believe my own abilities to win it. I believe I’m ready

- Marin Cilic

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. It’s time for a little statistical housekeeping to remind us of the magnitude of what Federer stands to achieve today. Marin fans, if you don’t want to know the score, look away now…

Deep breath. So, if the Swiss prevails in his record 11th Wimbledon final and 29th Grand Slam final, he will become the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles and 19 Grand Slam titles, 14 years since he won his first here. At 35 years and 342 days, he would be the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open era. And if he wins in three straight sets, he would be the first to triumph here without losing a set in the Fortnight since Bjorn Borg 41 years ago.

Out damned stats! Numbers only frame the greatness, they give no feel for the sheer joy of watching Federer’s timeless and amazing grace throughout this 2017 edition, where the only question being posed after each masterclass is: could he really be better than ever at 35?

When Tomas Berdych, his semi-final victim, was asked this, you could feel the exasperation of a top professional wondering how on earth a bloke just shy of his 36th birthday could show absolutely no signs of ageing out there.

“Sorry, guys, there’s no way to prove this… he's playing just too good.” Yes, Tomas, but did he have any weaknesses? “Challenging (Hawk-Eye),” Berdych offered with a wan smile.

Federer may remain an athlete guaranteed to induce inferiority complexes in opponents but Cilic, with his punishing power on both wings and improved aggression under the tutelage of Jonas Bjorkman, a former semi-finalist himself here, is adamant he has none. “Definitely, I believe my own abilities to win it. I believe I’m ready.”

Everybody likes Cilic. Federer hails him as a top fellow. Bjorkman is supposed to be trying to instil a meaner streak in him, but the 6ft 6in giant just shrugs that he can still be a nice guy on court while battering monstrous forehands.

If he wins, 20,000 people in his southern Bosnian hometown of Medjugorje, where he lived before moving to Croatia as a teen, will party all night. The town became a site of Catholic pilgrimage after apparitions of the Virgin Mary were reported there. This, though, would be their very own sporting miracle.

After the gentlemen’s final, we do have one delicious dessert for you, with a British topping guaranteed. Finland’s Henri Kontinen and Heather Watson, the defending champions, face the No.1 seeds, Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis, for the mixed doubles title. Yes, never fear, we have a Murray brother playing on finals weekend for the fifth time in six years!

The magnificent Hingis is chasing a 17th Grand Slam title but even the original Swiss Miss would happily concede that an illustrious compatriot deserves to hog centre stage. In Federer, she recognises someone who, just like her and Saturday’s beaten ladies’ finalist Venus Williams, has never lost that pure passion for the game and for the fight after all these years.

“I love this tournament. All my dreams came true here as a player,” enthuses the great man. “I’m unbelievably excited.” And he is not the only one…

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