Tennis: In-form Cilic is the surprise danger man

A pumped-up Marin Cilic during his match against Kevin Anderson in the round of 16 on Monday. The seventh seed was leading 6-3, 3-0 when the South African retired.
A pumped-up Marin Cilic during his match against Kevin Anderson in the round of 16 on Monday. The seventh seed was leading 6-3, 3-0 when the South African retired.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Marin Cilic has flown under the radar since arriving in Paris but after reaching the French Open quarter-finals for the loss of only 26 games, he looms as a clear and present danger.

Of the quarter-finalists in the men's draw, only nine-time champion Rafael Nadal (20) lost fewer games prior to their last-eight clashes this year. And Cilic, who has made this stage for the first time having done so in the other three slams, said he has not felt better at a Grand Slam since he won the 2014 US Open.

"Apart from at the US Open in '14, I'm definitely feeling the best on the court," said the 28-year-old, the first Croat to reach the last eight since Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic in 2006. "Even then I didn't go through the draw as comfortably as here."

He dropped three sets en route to the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows in 2014, but has yet to lose a set at Roland Garros this term.

At 1.98m, and with a game built on power off the serve and forehand, Cilic does not look made for clay. But he is a French Open junior champion and has two clay-court titles, one of which came this year when he won the Istanbul tournament.

"With the form I'm in I feel great on the court," he said ahead of today's clash against 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka. "It's a huge bonus for me, knowing that mentally and physically I haven't spent any energy at all.

"I grew up on clay, playing half the year on clay. But I would say last year I started to feel that I'm getting better on it."

He will need to find another gear against third seed Wawrinka, who he trails 2-11 in meetings and has not beaten since 2010. But he is ready and with warm weather expected later in the week, he definitely has a puncher's chance.

"With Stan it's extremely difficult on any surface," he said. "He has won a lot of matches in a row (seven) against me. But for me I have to focus on keeping this level and to look for my chances."

Their only meeting at this tournament was in 2008, when Wawrinka won in straight sets.

The 32-year-old too has not lost a set at this edition and is through to his third consecutive Roland Garros quarter-final. But he is mindful of the threat Cilic poses.

"He's playing really aggressive. He won a tournament on clay already this year," said the Swiss. "We had some good battles in the past.

"It's going to be important for me to get ready for a big match. He's serving well. I will really need to find a solution on the return and try to dictate the game from the baseline."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'In-form Cilic is the surprise danger man'. Print Edition | Subscribe