The 2018 Australian Open – Final
28th January 2018 at Melbourne Park
The narrative of the Men’s 2018 Australian Open Tournament has been dominated by injury to key players, but it is hard to argue that the two finalists are the most deserving of a spot in the final. Roger Federer is the overwhelming favourite to beat Marin Cilic, but is this justified? To answer this question, The Weekend Preview examines the performances of both players in the 6 matches they have played en route to the final.
Federer has won 56.2% of all points he has played whilst Cilic has won 54.9%, an insignificant difference in overall performance. However, Cilic has played over 6 hours more tennis than Federer, equating to over an hour more playing time per match. Federer has also played only the one day session, meaning that he should be the significantly more fresher if the final becomes a test of fitness.
The first serve statistics between both players have been near identical. They have both won 82.1% of points on first serve and also have an identical first serve average speed. Cilic has a slightly higher percentage of first serves into play and a marginally higher Ace strike rate (percentage of aces from first serves into play).
It is in second serves where Federer’s superiority is most evident. Federer has won 61.1% of his second serve points to Cilic’s 54.7%. The strength of Federer’s second serve can be partly attributed to an average speed that is 11 km/h faster than what Cilic can muster. It is no surprise that it is difficult to break Federer's serve.
Counteracting Federer’s strong second serve, Cilic has been exceptional in returning serve throughout the tournament. Cilic has won points returning serve at a higher rate than Federer on both first and second serve. Federer has also been fortunate (or by inferred pressure) of having opponents that have been achieving a first serve in play percentage of only 56.3%.
The Big Points:
Both Federer and Cilic are capitalising and saving break points at a very similar rate. Notably however, considering that he has played significantly fewer points, Federer is creating break points at an excellent rate. Federer has been capitalising on the poor first serve percentages of his opponents at crucial times.
So what does Cilic need to do to beat Federer once a point turns into a rally? He needs to attack Federer’s backhand. Federer has a ratio of 1.05 between winners and unforced errors on his forehand side, which falls to 0.25 on the backhand side. Cilic’s strength is also his forehand, but he will lose out in the long run if he gets stuck into a forehand battle with Federer. But his backhand is outperforming Federer’s. Federer’s single-handed backhand looks stylish but it is Cilic’s best avenue to success.
Federer is difficult to break because of his excellent second serve, but Cilic has been returning excellently throughout the tournament. And if Cilic keeps his first service percentage at the level he is achieved over the tournament, he will be able to deny Federer too many opportunities to break his serve. The biggest danger for Cilic is to get stuck in forehand rallies with Federer. He needs to stay disciplined and attack Federer’s backhand side. Given Federer's credentials it is not surprising that he enters the match as favourite, but Cilic is more than a fighting chance and I’ll be surprised if he can’t take at least a set or two from Federer. But if the tournament comes a war of attrition, particularly in the hot and humid conditions expected, the cosy run to the final for Federer could become the difference.
Prediction: Federer to win in 5 Sets