There were several striking similarities between Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic when they took to the court for their third round match at Wimbledon on Friday.
Both possess huge games predicated on serving and back-court power. Both ply their trade predominantly from the baseline, with the ability to close on the net. Just two centimetres separate them in height, with Cilic a fraction taller at a lofty 6ft 6in. Both are extremely mobile for their height. While Berdych is the higher ranked at No.6, Cilic, the world No.29, has also been ranked inside the top 10. Both reside in Monte Carlo.
The only glaring difference came in their head-to-head, which Berdych lead five wins to two. But Cilic took a step to evening the ledger in that department as well with a 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-6(6) upset of the Czech to advance to the fourth round at the All England Club.
With Grigor Dimitrov and Alexandr Dolgopolov battling through five sets on No.1 Court, Cilic and Berdych were reassigned to No.3 Court. And as soon as they began, the Croatian immediately set to work stamping his authority on the match. A break in the second game followed by strong serving in the third helped Cilic open up a 3-0 lead.
The sixth seed demonstrated resistance when he broke back in the seventh game, and although Cilic looked the stronger player – regularly troubling Berdych in the Czech’s subsequent service games – he was unable to break the deadlock. The set progressed to a tie-break, and here Cilic was finally able to wrest control, playing a forcing return to earn a set point and then clubbing a backhand winner to convert it.
He continued his momentum as the second set commenced, playing loose and instinctive tennis and sweetly timing his powerful ground-strokes. He broke to immediately lead 1-0, and although Berdych broke back to level at 1-1, Cilic scored another break en route to a 3-1 lead. It was an advantage he would maintain for the rest of the set; in the 10th game he completed an easy service hold with a forehand winner to pocket the second set.
Although the third set progressed on serve, both men had their chances to score valuable breaks. Landing first serves when they needed them most, Cilic’s delivery was especially damaging, earning him 20 aces throughout the match. The Croatian would have felt a major opportunity had passed him by when four break points – virtual match points – went begging in an entertaining, high-quality 11th game.
Down 6-5 instead of up by the same scoreline, Cilic nonetheless refocused and held serve to send the set to another tie-break. In the rapidly fading light, Berdych leaped out to a 3-1 lead, only to double fault several points later to give Cilic the advantage at 5-4. A drop shot winner brought up match point number one, and although Berdych saved that, Cilic created another opportunity and converted it when the Czech sent a final shot long.
Celebrating wildly, Cilic had ensured his appearance in the second week at Wimbledon for the third time.
The clock read 9.38pm, the latest ever finish to a match at the All England Club outside of Centre Court.
Cilic believed the most impressive part of his performance was the mental aspect; keeping the pressure on the world No.6 for the entire match and not allowing his level to drop when victory came within reach.
“I spoke a lot about that with (coach) Goran (Ivanisevic). We worked a lot actually on that. That was part of the game which I had to improve. I basically didn't have any option not to in the case to be able to improve,” he said.
“I feel that this part, when I'm playing well, to keep pushing and to try to keep high-quality level of tennis for the course of three-set matches or five-set matches. Today was one of those great examples for me that I showed to myself and to many others that I'm capable of playing high-quality tennis over the course of two and a half, three hours matches.
“That's really giving me a lot of confidence. I have to say, for me, it's a relief and a big sign that I can do it.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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