Popular Croatian Marin Cilic got his Wimbledon 2013 challenge off to an assured start with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over the one-time world No.8 Marcos Baghdatis.
On paper this meeting was charismatic but the Cypriot, now ranked 40, stretched his unhappy losing streak to seven matches as he succumbed to the No.10 seed. Watched on No.2 Court by his countryman, the 2001 champion Goran Ivanisevic, Cilic consistently served and returned better than his opponent, and delivered far more winners with a count of 41.
Actually these two players have a shared love of things Croatian – for Cilic it is the nation of his birth, while Baghdatis married the Croatian former world No.17 Karolina Sprem in a fairytale castle in her home country just a week after the end of last year’s Wimbledon. She gave birth to their first daughter Zahara last October.
On Court No.2 today it was of course all strictly business. Baghdatis had won just one of their four previous encounters, and with that six-match losing streak an albatross around his neck, it would have been a feat of hope over expectation to come into this match seriously considering himself likely to emerge the victor.
He lost both his grass court warm-up matches, in the first rounds of Halle and ’s-Hertogenbosch. By contrast Cilic arrived in SW19 on the back of a confidence-boosting appearance in the final at Queen’s, where he was beaten by Andy Murray.
In fact the Scot is another recurring motif in both their lives. Baghdatis lost to him here in the third round last year, after which Cilic underwent the same experience one round later. Cilic’s career best Slam performance was reaching the Australian semi-final three years ago, where he also lost to Murray. Moreover, it is possible that they could meet during Wimbledon 2013 in the quarter-finals, although Cilic will have to exceed his seeding to do that.
Judging by his form in this first round match, that is possible.
He eased himself into The Championships with his serve touching 224mph and just the one break in each set, getting the feel of the place again - although frankly the feel on Court No.2 was distinctly chilly, with more than one spectator literally wrapped in blankets.
Cilic, seeded 10 here but ranked 12, is edging towards his career high ranking of nine achieved three-and-a-half years ago. He is clearly looking for some new defining boost to get him there, as he despatched with the services of his longtime coach Bob Brett after losing in the third round at Roland Garros last month to Victor Troicki.
Perhaps that in part explained his sometime mentor Ivanisevic’s presence at courtside – guiding eyes in the absence of a coach.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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