Federer beat Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6 7-6 6-4 on Centre Court in two hours 18 minutes. He was genuinely challenged for the first time at Wimbledon this week before defeating Berdych to reach his 11th final.
The 35-year-old has still not dropped a set but he survived several tense moments on his way to a 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7/4) 6-4 victory.
“I feel very privileged to be in another final. I can’t believe it’s true,” said Federer.
Federer will go into tomorrow’s match as the hot favourite but there were slight glimmers of hope for Croatian Cilic in this performance that Berdych was unable to capitalise on.
Arguably no-one has suffered more from the big four’s dominance than the Czech, who has reached seven grand slam semi-finals and one final— which he lost to Rafael Nadal here seven years ago.
On that occasion he defeated Federer and Novak Djokovic back to back and, having benefited from the Serbian’s retirement on Wednesday, he was looking to repeat the feat.
Berdych repeatedly targeted the Federer forehand and had a decent amount of success, while he showed an unexpected deftness of touch at the net.
But too often he made bad errors at important moments while Federer slipped up only once when shutting the door in his opponent’s face.
That came at 4-3 in the first set after Federer had taken advantage of a fortunate net cord to break in the fifth game.
Federer had the history and the crowd, he surely did not need the luck as well. But Berdych hit back to make it 4-4 after Federer sent a second serve fractionally wide.
There was the sublime and occasionally the ridiculous from the 18-time Grand Slam champion, who got so much chop on one attempted drop shot that it landed several metres short of the net.
Berdych saved two break points to force a tie-break but one netted forehand cost him dearly.
It would not be surprising if he had been slightly short of belief having lost his last seven matches to Federer, and 18 of 24 in total, with his last win coming four and a half years ago.
Even when Federer was in trouble he still managed to look dismissive, saving a Berdych break point at 3-3 in the second set with a forehand swatted away at such an acute angle that it landed well inside the service line.
Berdych looked the stronger player towards the end of the set but was put in his place in the tie-break by three clean winners from Federer — the forehand not such a good play after all.
The writing was on the wall for Berdych at two sets down and the third set was Federer at his best.
He broke the Berdych serve for the second time to lead 4-3 having snuffed out two chances for his opponent with unreturnable serving.
And after two hours and 18 minutes, Federer booked his place in the final when Berdych netted a backhand.
It will be a staggering 29th Grand Slam final for the Swiss, who, just short of his 36th birthday, will be the oldest man to appear in the Wimbledon men’s final since the 39-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1974.
Cilic stands one win away from a first Wimbledon title after powering past Sam Querrey to book his place in the final 6-7 (6/8) 6-4 7-6 (7/3) 7-5.
It was less of a routine victory than the score suggests. Querrey snatched the first set and very nearly took it to a fifth only for Cilic to break at the crucial moment to seal victory after two hours and 56 minutes.
Cilic is the first Croatian to go the distance at Wimbledon since Goran Ivanisevic beat Tim Henman to reach the Wimbledon final in 2001.
“It feels unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable,” Cilic said.