In scenes rarely seen on tennis’s most famous centre court, Cilic broke down and buried his head in his towel after falling behind a set and 3-0 against the peerless Swiss.
The Croat called for a trainer and doctor and even had the tournament supervisor on hand, but battled on to finish the match.
Cilic, though, was a shadow of the player that crushed Federer in straight sets in the 2014 US Open semi-finals en route to the title in New York, or the threat that stretched the now-19-times grand slam champion to the distance in last year’s quarters at The All England Club.
Cilic later conceded it was the anguish of not being at his physical best, rather than “blisters”, that led to his spectacular meltdown.
“It was just a feeling that I knew that I cannot give my best on the court, that I cannot give my best game and my best tennis, especially at this stage of my career, at such a big match,” he said.
“It was very, very difficult to deal with it. That was the only thing.
“But, otherwise, it didn’t hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was just that feeling that I wasn’t able to give the best.”
Cilic was attempting to become the first Croatian to win the title – and second ever – since his one-time coach Gordan Ivanisevic denied Pat Rafter in a classic five-set decider in 2001.
“It was definitely one of the unfortunate days for me to happen. I got a really bad blister,” the sixth seed said.
“Even I felt it in the match with (Sam) Querrey in the semis. Fluid just came down under my callous in the foot.
This is heartbreaking ?#7tennis #Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/sOBS49CyRu
— 7SportAU (@7SportStandby) July 16, 2017
“I want to thank the physios here… the last 30 hours, they were just constantly almost with me. They did as much as they could, but unfortunately I still felt the pain.
“Every time I had to do a reaction fast, fast change of movement, I was unable to do that.”
Despite his heartache, Cilic accepted Federer as a worthy winner of his record eighth Wimbledon men’s singles crown.
“I don’t want to put down his victory in any way,” Cilic said.
“He deserved it completely. These things are part of the sport.”
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