This article originally appeared on The Grandstand.
The Australian Open concludes on Sunday, when Roger Federer and Marin Cilic battle at the very end for the second time in the last three Grand Slams. A five-team panel featuring Ricky Dimon, Joey Hanf, Steen Kirby, Pete Ziebron, and Mert Ertunga previews the action and makes its picks.
(5) Marin Cilic vs. (2) Roger Federer
Ricky: Cilic seems to be channeling his inner 2014 U.S. Open self during this fortnight Down Under. The difference is that the competition level has been lower…until now. A semifinal win over Rafael Nadal was impressive (Cilic probably would have won even without the retirement), but on a relatively fast hard court I saw that result coming from a mile away. The Croat has not faced anyone else of note (in fairness to Pablo Carreno Busta, he delivered an impressive fourth-round display in an extremely high-quality four-setter against Cilic). Now the competition level ratchets back up in the form of Federer, who is a dominant 8-1 in the head-to-head series (5-1 on hard courts). An in-form and well-rested Cilic will make this far more interesting than their 2017 Wimbledon final snooze-fest, but Federer will have too much experience and will put enough returns in play to eventually break Cilic down. Federer in 4: 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Joey: All things considered, this should be a pretty good final. While Federer goes in as a clear favorite, Cilic’s form and strong best-of-five record should make this one competitive if nothing else. I think it was also important for Cilic to get through Edmund in straights and get the additional day off, because he expended a lot of mental and physical energy in that quarterfinal against Nadal. While he looked shaky early in the event, Cilic has been building confidence and it never more evident than in his win over the world No. 1. While he has only one win over Federer, he has played him close at majors before–with a lone straight-set loss coming in the infamous ’17 Wimbledon final. It took the Croat a while to recover from that match, but I think he’s past it and ready to battle. The difference is that Federer has not shown much vulnerability whatsoever this fortnight, except perhaps against Marton Fucsovics of all people. Federer much prefers night matches, as it allows him to swing out on the ball, so that’s another big check in his favor. If Cilic wants to pull this off, I think he’ll need to serve like he did in Flushing Meadows in 2014, where he won 87 percent of his first-serve points against Federer. And while the court speed is medium-fast, I don’t think he can produce that in the slower night conditions. There’s too much variety, shotmaking, and experience on the other side of the net. Federer gets 20. Federer in 4: 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Steen: Federer has barely been on the court this tournament, and while Cilic has enough power to bother him and perhaps take a set, this is clearly Federer’s match to lose. He should remain an ageless champion. Federer in 4: 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Pete: Federer and Cilic have now appeared in two of the last three major finals; they will oppose each other six months after their less-than-memorable Wimbledon title match. Cilic can be expected to come out firing, eager to put his best foot forward this time and have a legitimate shot to win the second major of his career. This initial energy boost and enthusiasm will notch the first set for him. However, this little victory for Cilic–which will concurrently end Federer’s bid to win every set he has played at the Australian Open this year–will be his only moment of glory in the final. Federer quickly corrects course and looks more like the player who has swept his previous six matches. The vintage play of Federer in the next three sets secures his sixth Australian Open title and the 20th major of his storied career. Federer in 4: 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Mert: The more Federer and Cilic play, the more it looks like Cilic’s dominant win over Federer at the 2014 U.S. Open was an exception–to say the least. Even in the one close call (Wimbledon 2016), Federer ended up defeating Cilic without playing near his best in my opinion. The performance of both players on first serves will be the determining factor. If it works to perfection for Federer–and coming from him it would not be a surprise to see his first serve working well in the final of a major–I could potentially see a straight-set win. But Cilic’s own huge serving could help him steal a set. Federer in 4: 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.