WIMBLEDON (CNN) - Roger Federer played with a certain freedom back at the Australian Open. Returning from a six-month injury layoff, he said he would have been happy simply making the second week.
He did that and much more, ending a four-year drought at majors and capturing an 18th grand slam title.
Given his stellar, almost unblemished campaign overall in 2017, the Swiss entered this Wimbledon as the favorite and he became even more of the favorite on the grass he loves when one by one, great rivals Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray bid adieu.
The world No. 5 is now one victory away from completing the job and securing a record eighth title after beating Tomas Berdych 7-6 (4) 7-6 (4) 6-4 in Friday's semifinals, to the delight of likely 95% of the 15,000 strong on Centre Court.
They'll be firmly behind Federer again Sunday in his 11th final -- that too is a record -- when he meets Marin Cilic in a rematch of their thriller last year in the quarterfinals at The All England Club. Cilic led by two sets and held three match points.
"I'm going to try to play within myself," Federer told reporters. "I have to play offensive myself. If you give Marin now time on the ball, he can finish points nicely. The court is still playing quite fast. It helps on my serve, but it also helps him.
"I'm sure it's going to be a close match."
Cilic preceded Federer on Centre Court and eliminated maiden grand slam semifinalist Sam Querrey -- the engineer of the Murray upset -- 6-7 (6) 6-4 7-6 (3) 7-5. The Croat thus gave credence to those who thought the world No. 6 was a legitimate contender prior to Wimbledon.
He wasn't overawed going into the final.
"I believe this is (Federer's) home court, the place where he feels the best and knows that he can play the best game," said the 6-foot-6 Cilic, imposing on court but mild mannered off it. "Obviously I'm going to look back. Twelve months ago I was one point away from winning a match over here against him.
"I still know that it's a big mountain to climb. Roger is playing maybe (some) of his best tennis of his career at the moment, having a great season. So I know it's going to be a huge challenge.
"But I believe I'm ready."
With Venus Williams in Saturday's women's final against Garbine Muguruza, it means the combined age of the singles winners -- Federer is 35, close to 36, and Williams is 37 -- could be 72.
Federer became the second oldest man to make the Wimbledon final after a 39-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1974; the Australian was one of those watching yet another of his Wimbledon semifinal wins.
"I don't see anything that would indicate really Roger is getting older or anything like that," said Berdych. "I mean, I think he's just proving his greatness in our sport."
Williams, meanwhile, is the oldest women's finalist since Martina Navratilova in 1994.
The circumstances surrounding Federer leading into the semis here mimicked the French Open in 2009. Back then "King of Clay" Nadal unexpectedly lost to Robin Soderling, giving Federer a huge opportunity to win the lone major that had eluded him.
But weighed down by the added pressure, he nearly lost to Tommy Haas the day following the Spaniard's defeat, having to come back from two sets and a break point down in the third to win. He would go on to lift the trophy a week later.
Things weren't nearly as nervy for him against Berdych, although the butterflies that he said surfaced ahead of a seemingly inconspicuous second-round match against Dusan Lajovic last week might have returned. Or at least for a small time.
Federer indeed relinquished a 4-3 break lead in the first set and needed a tiebreak to get the better of the 2010 finalist, who has experienced different emotions playing Federer this year.
Berdych was blown off the court by Federer in Melbourne -- his then coach Goran Ivanisevic said the Czech was given a free tennis lesson -- but then held two match points in Miami when they battled again.
To his credit, Berdych didn't fade in the second set, saving a break point early and even manufacturing a break point of his own at 3-3. Federer, though, saved it by zinging a forehand cross-court.
The forehand, which for a time in recent years lost some of its potency, essentially decided the second tiebreak. Federer ripped them to all parts of the court to build a 5-1 lead.
Federer then slammed the door shut with four big serves when down two break points at 2-3 in the third and somewhat predictably broke in the next game. Soon he had wrapped up a 19th victory in 25 attempts against the man who won their first-ever meeting at the 2004 Olympics.
He hasn't dropped a set yet.
"The first three, four months were just like a dream really," said Federer, who also did the rare Indian Wells-Miami double. "So this is something I was working towards, Wimbledon, to be in good shape. I'm happy it's paying off here now."
Cilic, as Federer knows, will be a different proposition, despite the latter holding a 6-1 advantage in their tussles.
Besides the tight one last year, Cilic has defeated Federer at a major, en route to his lone grand slam success at the 2014 US Open.
"He was clocking returns and serves at will," said Federer, reflecting on that semifinal. "He was doing a great job. He was confident and feeling it and seeing it. I mean, it was very impressive."
Just like in New York, Cilic will have less of the pressure Sunday, although Federer is in much better form than three summers ago.
Cilic struck 25 aces against Querrey and in truth, could have won in three sets over the American. After all, he led the first-set tiebreak 4-1. He also blew a break lead in the third but eventually won it in a tiebreak.
He was always the one taking it to his opponent -- and didn't pay for squandering break points. Only one other Croatian -- the charismatic Ivanisevic, who coached Cilic to the New York success -- has ever appeared in a Wimbledon final, finally winning it in 2001.
Perhaps playing three five-setters had taken a toll on the 28th-ranked Querrey, who had upset defending champion Murray on Wednesday.
Cilic improved to 5-0 against Querrey but if he does face Federer, will have to overturn his losing record -- and disappoint the majority who'll be in attendance on the grandest stage in tennis.
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