Commentary

Cilic, Federer and the emotional toll of playing in the Wimbledon final

Updated: July 16, 2017, 4:13 PM ET
By Alyssa Roenigk | ESPN.com

LONDON -- The 2017 Wimbledon men's final will be remembered for its tears as much as for its triumphs. For one man, they represented joy, and the other, heartache. The emotions from each were equally powerful.

After defeating No. 7 seed Marin Cilic in straight sets to win a record eighth Wimbledon title one year after experiencing a bitter defeat in the semis, 19-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer sat alone in the changeover chair and was overcome with emotion while he awaited the trophy ceremony.

But Federer's tears are not the ones that will be seared into viewers' minds long after the grounds at the All England Club have stilled. Those belonged to Cilic.

Marin Cilic with DoctorsClive Brunskill/Getty Images Marin Cilic could not contain his emotions, knowing an injury was preventing him from playing his best tennis.

Down one set and trailing 3-0 in the second, Cilic took his seat during the changeover and called for the trainer and doctor. As the men spoke, Cilic lifted his towel to his eyes and began to weep uncontrollably. He took deep, labored breaths, and as television cameras zoomed in to bring the Croatian player's struggles more clearly into focus, he poured his emotions on to Centre Court.

In the arena, fans wondered what had happened to the powerful player they'd watched dance masterfully through the draw; the trainers never worked on an injury, yet they remained with him for the duration of the changeover. On TV, analysts wondered whether Cilic had panicked, if the enormity of facing the greatest men's champion on the sport's biggest stage was simply more than he could bear. Had he lost the last break point and simply broken?

When he arrived at his postmatch news conference an hour after accepting the runner-up trophy, Cilic didn't shy away from questions about his cry. He didn't make excuses, didn't blame his injury, a blister on the bottom of his left foot that he and his trainers had been managing since his semifinal match. Cilic was not going to be embarrassed by his public display of emotion.

"[The blister] didn't hurt so much that it was putting me in tears," Cilic said. "It was that feeling that I wasn't able to give the best. It was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through the last few months in preparation. I knew on such a big day that I'm unable to play my best tennis. That was a combination of all emotions because I know how much it took for me to get here."

It had taken Cilic 11 attempts to make the final at Wimbledon, only the second Grand Slam final of his career. That's more than a decade of hard work, of grinding on tour and adapting his game; of showing up at every match of every major tournament believing he had more wins within himself than the singular 2014 US Open title listed on his record.

This was the moment he wanted to be in. It was what he'd fought for all week -- six matches he called some of the best tennis of his life. He felt strong, he felt confident -- and then a blister threatened to take it all away.

Cilic not only realized he didn't have much of a chance to beat the 35-year-old Federer, but he wouldn't even have his best chance to try. He simply couldn't hide his disappointment or keep his emotions bottled up inside. But if not for that cry and the release it brought to his mind, he might not have been able to pick himself up from that chair and walk back out onto the court, knowing what was ahead of him.

"It's tough when you're in that kind of situation," Cilic said. "You know there is not much possibility that you're going to win. It's just fighting it through. That loss today, obviously, it's a sad one. It's a devastating one. But I'm still very proud of myself for everything I did these two weeks. That's what I'm going to take home with me."

Alyssa Roenigk

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com whose assignments have taken her to six continents and caused her to commit countless acts of recklessness. (Follow @ESPN_Alyssa on Twitter).

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