Federer’s chilling warning to Cilic
TENNIS: Blissfully older and wiser, Roger Federer believes he may also be playing better than ever in a chilling warning to Marin Cilic ahead of Sunday night's Australian Open final at Melbourne Park.
Federer has yet more tennis history at his mercy - and seemingly Cilic too - as he lines up for his 30th grand slam title decider striving to become the first man ever to snare 20 career majors.
"Twenty times special. I don't know what to tell you. It would be amazing," the phenomenal Swiss said when asked what it would mean to join Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22) in the exclusive 20s club.
Turning 37 in August, Federer said it was a "joke" to have the opportunity to defend the crown he won in such fairytale fashion last year, when he reigned over Rafael Nadal in his first tournament back after six months out nursing a knee injury.
But it's no accident either.
"It ain't just an easy trip to the finals," Federer said.
"There's always a lot of work that goes into it during the tournament; focus and also preparation beforehand.
"For many weeks and months before you try to put yourself in the position to be ready (for) a good semi-finals or quarter-finals match at the Australian Open. "This is something you sort of plan from a long time ago. That's why when it does happen, it's a great feeling.
"Rewards the hard work in my team. It shows us that we did a lot of things right in the off-season as well."
Federer's off-season included a random training work-out with Cilic in the Maldives in November after the pair, unbeknown to each other beforehand, were uncannily holidaying on the same Indian Ocean island.
"It was great fun. No coaches, no nothing. Just the two of us on the court hitting balls. Just nice and laid back," Federer said.
It won't be laid back at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night when Federer tries to repeat his 2017 Wimbledon final triumph over Cilic and deny the big-hitting Croat a second Grand Slam crown to accompany his 2014 US Open triumph.
Federer will also be bidding to win three slams in 12 months for the first time since his mid-20s romp in 2008/09.
Ominously for Cilic, the five-time champion believes he's still at his imperious best a decade on, even with a growing family in tow.
"It's obviously a totally different life, I have four kids today. I didn't have that 10 years ago. Clearly my life has been turned upside down," Federer said.
"In terms of tennis, I think I see things also again a bit different, a bit more I guess wiser to some extent, maybe more laid back because in 2008 I was fighting with mononucleosis that year. I ended up losing in the semis.
"That was a bit of a turning point in my career, to be honest. I felt I lost a step there for a little bit, for maybe six to nine months. I was able to sort of bounce back.
"So you go through different stages throughout your career. I'm happy I'm still around, still healthy, still playing good, giving myself chances, playing the best."
Federer's crazy numbers back up his belief.
The second seed is through to the final without dropping a set, hoping to match Nadal and Bjorn Borg as the only three men to win a major without being stretched beyond three sets in seven straight matches at three different slams.
"I just have to play a good match. At this point it's not about having to improve anything in particular," Federer said.
"I think I've done everything pretty well."