Roger Federer and Marin Cilic will “only” be playing for 200 ranking points and $191,000 in prize money when they conclude their round-robin campaigns at the World Tour Finals on Thursday night. Strictly from a tournament perspective, nothing is on the line. Federer is already through to the semifinals and Cilic has been mathematically eliminated.
The two veterans have squared off on eight previous occasions, with Federer dominating the head-to-head series 7-1. Cilic famously rolled to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 upset at the 2014 U.S. Open en route to his lone Grand Slam title, but he has otherwise struggled against the Swiss. They have faced each other twice since that 2014 encounter, with both meetings having come in London–albeit at Wimbledon as opposed to the O2 Arena. Federer survived a five-setter in 2016 before coasting through this year’s title match 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
Due in part to a back injury, the 36-year-old could not clean up the rest of the tour during the hard-court summer like he did at the All-England Club. Now 100 percent, though, Federer is once again the best player in the world at the moment. He is 12-0 since the U.S. Open with titles in Shanghai and Basel. The world No. 2 has improved to an amazing 54-12 lifetime at the World Tour Finals with wins this week over Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev, dropping one set to Zverev in the process.
Federer’s Tuesday night victory over Zverev clinched the No. 1 spot in Group B while ending Cilic’s semifinal hopes. The fifth-ranked Croat really sealed his own fate by squandering break leads in the third set against both Zverev and Sock. He dropped his opener to Zverev 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 before seeing Sock get the best of a 5-7, 7-2, 7-6(4) thriller.
“It is frustrating, absolutely,” Cilic admitted. “Definitely (it was) disappointing in both matches in that third set, being in a good position, putting myself in a good position. But, unfortunately I didn’t close it…. I was quite motivated in both matches. I felt that I played well. I know that I wasn’t playing the best, especially in those critical moments I was not coming up with some great shots…. That was just a little bit unfortunate that I wasn’t able to close. I was putting myself in a really nice position.”
The 29-year-old was in this same position at the 2016 World Tour Finals, where he was eliminated at 0-2 before picking up his first-ever victory at the O2 Arena by defeating Kei Nishikori. Motivation will not be a problem for Cilic, who could see Federer try out some different things as the six-time year-end championship winner prepares for semifinal Saturday.
The result should be a competitive contest, but Federer will also be motivated to keep alive his bid for an undefeated run through London.
Pick: Federer in 3