He also became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win Wimbledon without dropping a set.
“The tournament I played, not dropping a set, it’s magical really,” Federer said in the postmatch ceremony with the trophy back in his hands.
Cilic, seeded No. 7, defeated Federer in straight sets in the semifinals of the United States Open on his way to the title. He had three match points against Federer in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year before Federer prevailed in five sets.
A hard-fought, close match in this final would have been no surprise. Instead, it turned into a rout as Cilic struggled for consistency and with his emotions.
After losing the second set, Cilic took a medical timeout on court and received treatment on the bottom of his left foot for what his coach, Jonas Bjorkman, later said was a blister that had formed during Cilic’s semifinal victory over Sam Querrey.
Cilic said he received constant treatment on the blister before the match but found himself unable to change direction without pain. His tears, he said, were from frustration, not pain.
“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 and at such a big match,” he said. “It was very, very difficult to deal with it, and 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.”
“We even tried with some anesthetics just to block the pain but that area it’s very difficult because it’s hard skin, and it helped but I still felt some pain. And even when I was warming up for the match, I was trying to test myself in exercises with change of direction and really I was too slow basically to react and I knew it was going to be difficult.”
After a delay, he eventually retook the court, receiving a roar of support from the Centre Court crowd. He managed to hold serve with an acrobatic backhand half-volley drop shot winner to stop Federer’s streak of consecutive games, but there was no halting Federer’s momentum.
After losing the second set, Cilic took a medical timeout on court and received treatment on the bottom of his left foot, which was then retaped.
In the early stages of the third set, he showed flashes of the attacking baseline game that had carried him to the final. But Federer took control for good by breaking Cilic’s serve in the seventh game.
Federer, who did not lose his serve in the match, eventually closed out his eighth victory at Wimbledon with an ace.
He was soon in tears himself as he sat in his chair and looked in the direction of the players box where his twin daughters and twin sons were now standing next to his wife, Mirka, and the rest of his team.
“It’s disbelief that I can achieve such heights,” Federer said in the postmatch ceremony. “I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be here again in another final after last year.
“I had some tough ones here, losing to Novak in ’14 and ’15,” he said, referring to his defeats to Novak Djokovic. “But I always believed I could come back and do it again, and if you believe, you can go really far in your life.”
Cilic, playing ins first Wimbledon final, fought back more tears in the award ceremony as he explained that he had been committed to completing the final instead of retiring.
“That’s what I did throughout all my career,” he said. “I never gave up when I start the match. So that was my idea also today. I gave my best, and that’s all I could do.”
Federer expressed sympathy, addressing Cilic directly in the ceremony. “You had a wonderful tournament,” he said. “Sometimes, you just don’t feel great in the finals. It’s cruel, but be proud of yourself, and I hope we can play down the road some better ones.”
Federer gave his first big hint that he was on his way to big things here by upsetting Sampras in the fourth round in five sets in 2001.
He won his first Wimbledon singles title in 2003, sporting a scraggly beard and a ponytail. Fourteen years later, Federer, now the father of four young children, was clean-cut and cleanshaven.
“I don’t remember what I did back in 2003, to be honest,” he said of his prefinal routine. “The team was much smaller. I didn’t have kids running around, potentially waking me up at night. Today we’ve got to, like, close down the doors, say, ‘Daddy is sleeping.’”
But neither time nor late-night interruptions have yet blunted Federer’s power or dulled his skills. Refreshed and improved, he has won five of the seven tournaments he has played this year, including both Grand Slam events in which he has taken part.
After surprising himself by winning the Australian Open in January, he skipped the clay-court swing and the French Open to better prepare himself for grass and the venerable major tournament that suits his game and improvisational ability best.
But to call this year’s Wimbledon a grass-court event is only partly true. Rarely in its modern history has the area around the Centre Court baseline been more barren and scuffed up for a men’s final.
The court conditions led to several bad bounces in the women’s final on Saturday, won by Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-5, 6-0, over Venus Williams, who at 37 was trying to become the oldest women’s singles champion at Wimbledon in the modern era.
Federer fared better in his quest. It has been that kind of season, one for him and his peripatetic family to savor.
“If you look at the other guys who are 35, 36, I think you can very clearly see that the age and the years on tour are affecting them, but not with him,” said Tomas Berdych, who lost to Federer in the semifinals. “You have to be a unique one for that.”