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Novak Djokovic forced to go distance to overcome Cilic

Novak Djokovic hits a forehand during his Quarter-final match
by Ron Atkin
Wednesday 2 July 2014

On an afternoon when the defending champion Andy Murray crashed to quarter-final defeat the tournament’s top seed, Novak Djokovic, also flirted with disaster before pulling himself together, reminding himself that he was facing an opponent he had already beaten nine times in a row and eventually clocking up a 10th straight victory over Marin Cilic 6-1, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-2 in three hours 19 minutes on No. 1 Court.

Clearly disturbed by the loud crowd noise of British fans watching Murray’s match with Grigor Dimitrov on the giant screen on nearby Henman Hill, Djokovic suffered a severe downturn in form after dominating the first set but when the outside noises abated and he faced a two sets to one deficit, Djokovic lifted himself physically and mentally – the sign of a true champion – and hurtled through the last two sets, looking stronger and more assured by the minute. At the end the victorious Serb embraced the defeated Croatian, a rare sight between natives of two Balkan nations which are not, to say the least, best of friends.

In search of a place in a Grand Slam semi-final for the 23rd time, Djokovic started impressively, winning his opening game to love with the first of his ten aces and immediately broke for a 2-0 lead when Cilic netted a forehand, normally his biggest shot. It was the start of a match-long Djokovic attack on the Croatian’s forehand which in the end worked more times than not. Cilic lost his serve again in the sixth game with the first of his six double-faults and Djokovic held comfortably to go a set up after just 27 minutes.

As the noise from Henman Hill swelled, with loud groans mixed with the cheering as Murray struggled, Djokovic seemed to find the noise distracting, as well as annoying, and after he dropped serve and was then 5-2 down in the second set he said to the umpire, Mohamed El Jennati, “Why don’t you put the [Murray] match on the big screen?”

By the time Murray had lost and the off-court clamour and had subsided Djokovic was 4-3 up in the third set but he missed four break points in the next game, which Cilic eventually salvaged with the sixth of his ten aces. With both men swapping service breaks the set moved into a tie-break and after Djokovic had slipped and lost the opening point it was Cilic who won it with ease, seven points to four, though he admitted later, “That tie-break took out a bit more energy than it should have. Mentally, as well.”

Djokovic’s verdict on that moment was “I just held my composure when the match was going his way when he won the third set. But you rely on experience and that can decide these particular matches. I’ve been there and I’ve played five-setters. I was down and coming back. So I knew what I needed to do. Also I thought Marin got a bit tired physically. I looked at him and he wasn’t moving as well any more. So I tried to move him from one corner to another, to mix up the pace.”

Having hardly been on speaking terms with his normally lethal backhand in the previous two sets, Djokovic seized on his opponent’s momentum downturn to go 3-0 ahead in the fourth set, at which point, after a couple more falls, he changed his shoes. Not only was his footing more assured, his game took flight.

“I had better grip, I got better movement” said Djokovic. “Maybe it was just mental, but it worked.” He rushed through the fourth set in 33 minutes. and as Cilic’s resolve wilted, Djokovic stepped up the intensity of his own game, conceding just two points in four service games and completing a memorable comeback with a crisply-executed backhand volley before raising both arms in triumph.

Cilic was realistic about the outcome afterwards: “Against these top guys, if you give them a chance to come back you are disappointed in the end.”

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