A four-hour marathon on No.1 Court was suspended in the gathering darkness at 9.33pm with Marin Cilic and Tommy Haas standing level at 5-7, 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) 6-6 in the final set. By the time they were forced to give in to the failing light, both men had saved two match points in an encounter that swung unpredictably this way and that.
Early on this match looked like being an unmitigated disaster for Haas, 31. The 11-year age gap between the players yawned as 20-year-old Cilic blasted away from the baseline. The German was obliged to save two break points to prevent a 0-4 scoreline. But he managed it, inching his way on to the scoreboard at 1-3.
Openings were few for him, even on his own serve, and he also produced double faults at the most unwelcome moments. But he hung on and stayed in touch, although for what seemed a long time he could make no impression on the Cilic serve.
Then Haas held to love for the first time for 5-3, and the one-time world number two seemed to take heart from it. Next game a netcord helped save a Cilic set point, and then suddenly a double fault from the Croatian handed his opponent a thoroughly unexpected break point.
Crucially Haas got the first serve back, and in the subsequent rally Cilic put a potential winner wide. It was 5-5. Haas was gaining confidence visibly, typified by a beautifully judged lob. Meanwhile, errors were creeping into Cilic’s game at exactly the wrong time. Haas forced a break point for 6-5 with an unreturnable forehand, and not only converted it, but served out to love. Out of nowhere, it seemed, he had won the set.
Haas managed to carry enough momentum with him into the second set that he avoided the disastrous opening period of the first. It was sufficiently hard work that that at 3-3 he uttered what sounded very much like an audible obscenity when fluffing a shot on Cilic’s serve, but he received no warning.
A tiebreak looked inevitable until just as before, out of the blue the set turned. At 5-5 Haas found himself with a break point and controlled the rally superbly to convert it. Cilic saved three set points at 5-6 but a fourth was too much and Haas took the set.
Perhaps it was finally beginning to show that Cilic – seeded for the first time this Wimbledon – came into the tournament with no grasscourt form, having lost in the first round at Queen’s. Haas, meanwhile, arrived in SW19 as the newly-crowned champion on the lawns of Halle, having overturned the odds there to defeat Novak Djokovic in the final. Yet still the pattern of this match this evening felt like a shock.
But to vocal encouragement from the very visible Croatian support in the crowd, Cilic broke at the start of the third. He was five games up before Haas could stop the rot but it made no difference. Cilic sent down successive aces to capture the set 6-1.
At the start of the fourth set Haas was moving stiffly, and seemed to be having discomfort in his left foot. But as far as the score was concerned he was back on track. At 5-4 on serve Haas had two separate match points, but could do nothing with either and the set went to the tiebreak. Cilic took command of it and the match moved into the fifth.
By now Haas was tiring, and the 11-year age gap was beginning to show for real. Cilic broke at the first opportunity and got to 3-0 before the match turned again and Haas pegged him back to 3-3. Once again Cilic broke, and once again Haas levelled.
At 5-6, in the last game of the night before play would have had to be suspended in any case, suddenly Cilic at last found a way through again to grab two separate match points, and this time Haas saved both to leave the match on a knife-edge at 6-6.