It is 14 years since Roger Federer beat Mark Philippoussis - now a staple of the legends' circuit - to win his first Wimbledon title. Yesterday, in a final that will be remembered more for Marin Cilic's tearfulness than for any great majesty of play, he became the first man to land an eighth.

Admittedly, the Swiss master has replaced his floppy mop of hair with a short back and sides, and got rid of the bumfluff from his upper lip. Otherwise, it was as if he had transported himself from July 6, 2003 to July 16, 2017.

The only shame is that the best episodes of this long-running show require a charismatic assistant. Sometimes even a victorious challenger.

Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have all filled one or other of these roles in the past.

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Cilic had it in him to be part of a great double-act yesterday. There was nothing wrong with his ball-striking in the first four games, when he landed some serious haymakers. Had he maintained that pace, he could have turned this final into the compelling drama the spectators had come to see.

But there was a plot twist hidden in Cilic's left shoe. A heavy strapping around the ball of his foot that covered a fluid-filled callus. For the first few games, he was able to dance around the court as normal. There had, after all, been a three-man medical team working on the area since Saturday morning.

In the later stages of the opening set, however, Cilic was beginning to miss - and miss big. "I think I start to give a few more signals that I wasn't moving as good at 5-3," he said. "Even though I was close with the score until that point, I felt that I was just not setting up well for the balls. It was tough for me to block it [the pain] and to ... play what I need to play."

For the rest of the world, and even for Federer, it was hard to tell what Cilic was going through. But then, at the first changeover in the second set, the trainer and the doctor came on court, and Cilic dissolved into big, gulping sobs. It felt like the Jana Novotna moment from 1993, when she cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, except that this match still had a set and a half to go.

Federer won his first title in 2003. Photo / AP
Federer won his first title in 2003. Photo / AP

Federer said afterwards: "When he called the doctor first, I thought maybe he was dizzy or something. Because I couldn't tell what it was, it actually made things easier. If I saw him limping around, or if I saw him pull up hurt in some place, I would start to think, 'Okay, maybe I'll throw in a drop-shot to really check him out'. You need to hurt him where it hurts already. Because I didn't know and I couldn't tell, I just said, 'Focus on your game'."

Federer did exactly that, as he closed out a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory in 1hr 41mins - his fastest in a Wimbledon final since he beat Roddick here in 2005. Yet even as he climbed to his 19th major title, and what could be considered his crowning glory, the occasion was undercut by a sense of anti-climax.

Despite the ace that Federer sent down on his second match point, and the tears that he also shed as he looked up to his family in the players' box, this was not the way we had imagined him climbing Everest. At no stage in this tournament did he recapture the total command of his Australian Open performances. He didn't have to.

The 2017 Wimbledon singles champions Roger Federer of Switzerland and Garbine Muguruza of Spain pose with their trophies at the Champions Dinner at The Guildhall in London. Photo / AP
The 2017 Wimbledon singles champions Roger Federer of Switzerland and Garbine Muguruza of Spain pose with their trophies at the Champions Dinner at The Guildhall in London. Photo / AP

Even humming along at three-quarter capacity, he still became only the second man in the Open era - after Bjorn Borg in 1976 - to win Wimbledon without dropping a set.

At the post-match presentation, Federer said: "It is cruel sometimes but he [Cilic] fought well and is a hero."

Later, as he faced reporters in the interview room, he confirmed that he still has plenty of appetite for these challenges and could seriously envisage himself still playing Wimbledon - rather than the legends' events - at the grand old age of 40.

"You would think so," said Federer, who skipped the whole of this year's clay-court season to put himself in the optimal position to win here. "You could take 300 days off beforehand, just prepare for Wimbledon, put yourself in a freeze box, then you come out and train a bit, you know you're not going to be injured.

"I love playing the big stages still. I don't mind the practice. I don't mind the travel. Because I'm playing a little less, I actually get more time in return. I feel like I'm working part-time these days almost, which is a great feeling."

Federer sees himself as a gentleman dilettante, it seems. Just like William Renshaw, who became the first man to claim seven Wimbledon titles when he beat his brother Ernest in the 1889 final. Once again, the theme of time travel is hard to resist.