Marin Cilic Wins Cincinnati Another Big Stride in a Great Direction

Cilic

Photo Courtesy of Zimbio.com

Two former US Open Champs competing in the Cincinnati final is nothing out of the ordinary- it has happened nine times in the last twenty years- so it was no surprise that Marin Cilic should take on Andy Murray for the title. 

The way Cilic won the Cincinnati trophy was something of a shock, however. Cilic’s semi-final versus Grigor Dimtrov did not finish until close to 1:30 AM Sunday morning and his rival in the final just over 14 hours later Andy Murray, the world No.2, was on a 22 match win streak, and a two time Cincinnati Champion (2008, 2011).

Yet, despite the quick turnaround and a determined opponent on the chase for the ATP No.1 ranking, the 12th seed Cilic beat the top seed Murray 6-4, 7-5.

Murray may have been close to exhaustion after being the player to beat since Madrid, but Murray wins ugly often and had an 11-2 head to head advantage over the Croat.

That history meant little to the Croat who, playing his first ATP 1000 final in his 71st main draw appearance at such an event, (before this week his ATP 1000 best results were 8 quarter-finals), played much like he did in what has been his one and only Slam final- like a tennis player born to win on fast hard courts, showcasing his main weapons, his serve and forehand at their best, and backing them up with his solid backhand, net game and defense.

With Cilic firing on his serve against one of the best hard court players on tour, and hitting through him on the forehand, Murray had no chance of working his way to a win, as he does so often, through his own will alone, or, as is also often the case, with a little help from his rival.

In this season’s Cincinnati final, Cilic was not in the generous mood he had been in when he led Murray a set and a break at the 2012 US Open before losing in four sets. The Croat did wobble a touch at 5-2 in the first set, but he served it out for 6-4. In the second set, Cilic held firm all the way through to the business end of the set, breaking Murray for 6-5 and then serving out for the title.

The win was as straight forward as the score, the Croat’s aggression and preciseness winning out versus Murray’s more defensive minded game.

Cilic’s win means he is now, as the 2014 US Open champion, the youngest active winner of a Slam (del Potro is five days older than him) and an ATP 1000 title, (Djokovic held that distinction for nine years). Cilic is also one of only seven active slam champs on the tour (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, del Potro and Wawrinka are the other six), and is now one of just ten active ATP 1000 champs (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Berdych, Robredo, Ferrer, Wawrinka, Tsonga are the others).

“What does it matter”, my tennis partner asked me while watching the Cincinnati final, “whether Cilic wins or not? He already has the US Open. Who cares if he wins in Cincinnati?”

It’s a good question.

In the freakish world of 21st Century Men’s tennis in which the same players win big over and over,  another ‘Big title’ (The ATP now groups slams, ATP 1000 and WTF as Big Titles), makes you stand out from the chasing pack struggling to break the Big Four hold on the big events and make semis and finals. With only Cilic, del Potro and Wawrinka stepping out of their shadow on the biggest stages, every big win, and if like Cilic you can secure it with a win over a Big Four member, is a nice step into the sunlight, a big stride in a great direction.

On a tour which may have the same competitors winning week in week out but is as competitive at the top as it ever has been, standing out when you are already 6ft 6″ can be one of the decisive factors that could work in your favor when you play to stand out a little more, which, if Cilic can stay healthy and peak for championship matches the way he does, he is likely to be doing for a while.

Distancing himself from his rivals clearly meant a lot to Cilic.. The now world No.9 shot pistols from the hip to celebrate the win, one that brings him both a first ATP 1000 trophy and the No.7 seed at the US Open (after Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych’s withdrawal). The 2014 champ has shown that slam win, in which he defeated Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori without dropping a set, was not a fluke- his previous lack of 500 or 1000 titles raising  some questions as to his slam title worthiness- by reaching the US Open semis last season and now winning Cincinnati, and enters the upcoming US Open as one of the well deserved favorites.

Seeing two former US Open champs going for a US Open title is no surprise either, and if Cilic makes it to the title match in three weeks time, do not expect any dropped jaws in response- expect, instead, some appreciative head-nodding at Cilic’s aggressive game and champion’s mindset worthy of the biggest hard court title matches out there.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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