Big-hitting Cilic outlasts Nadal
Marin Cilic reached his second Australian Open semi-final after Rafael Nadal retired injured, with the Croatian ultimately prevailing 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2, 2-0 (RET).
And yet that victory looked unlikely midway through the second set, when Cilic trailed the world No.1 by a set and a break, with that second set loss of serve coming after he had received a time violation warning.
Yet rather than deflate the Croatian, it seemed to only make him angry, and he proceeded to belt the cover off the ball for the rest of the encounter, hitting 83 winners in total.
The tactic worked - Cilic claimed the next four games in style, powering through Nadal to take the second set.
The third set was an almighty contest, with Nadal somehow withstanding an utter barrage from the Cilic racket before the pair arrived at a tie-break. The No.6 seed continued to go for broke, and at 5-5 had Nadal on the run, opening up the deuce court for a regulation winner.
Unfortunately for him, he overcooked the shot, sending it long to hand Nadal a set point. The Spaniard took it and celebrated in a manner that was intense even by his standards, pumping both fists and roaring towards his box.
At that point, it looked as if the world No.1 had weathered the Cilic storm. In reality, it proved to be Nadal’s last hurrah in the tournament. Cilic simply resumed his usual, brutal service, peppering Nadal with huge groundstrokes as he broke twice to claim the fourth set 6-2.
Nadal had received medical treatment on his upper leg at 1-4 down in that fourth set, and at the beginning of the fifth was visibly limping.
Clearly struggling, Nadal nevertheless fought gallantly as he attempted to hold onto his serve in the decider, getting to deuce having been 0-40 down.
But Cilic broke through at the sixth attempt, and Nadal decided enough was enough, retiring injured for just the second time in a Grand Slam match.
A picture of dejection and frustration as he returned to his bench, this was a cruel end to Nadal’s tournament, given how hard he had worked to get to Melbourne.
“It is really tough to accept, especially after a tough December that I had without having a chance to start in Abu Dhabi and then Brisbane,” said the Spaniard during his post-match press conference.
“I am a positive person, and I can be positive, but today is an opportunity lost to be in the semifinals of a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me.”
Nevertheless, a great deal of credit must go to Cilic, who from the second set onwards looked in the kind of irrepressible form that delivered him a Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2014.
In a strange quirk of fate, Cilic is back in an Australian Open semi-final for the first time since 2010, when he faced Andy Murray. Now, he will take on another Briton in Kyle Edmund, who stunned Grigor Dimitrov earlier on in the day.
Wozniacki into the last four
Caroline Wozniacki reached her first Australian Open semi-final since 2011 by beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-7(3),6-2.
A miserly presence in the first set, the Dane offered up just three unforced errors to Suarez Navarro’s 15 and raced to a 6-0 scoreline in just 34 minutes.
Having lost the first seven games, Suarez Navarro stopped the rot by holding for 1-1, and from that platform began to find her way back into the match.
Now stepping into the court and taking the ball on earlier, Suarez-Navarro broke for a 4-2 lead as her single-handed backhand started causing Wozniacki problems.
The Dane surged back to lead 5-4, though, and even earned a match point against the Suarez Navarro serve.
But the unseeded Spaniard fended it off bravely with a forehand winner, and her courage was further rewarded in the second set tie-break, as she ran away with it 7-3 to force a decider.
Given the preceding upsets on day nine, one could see the trend continuing as Suarez Navarro held serve in the opening game of the third set.
Wozniacki, though, was determined not be the fourth high-profile victim of the day, and her consistency and desire told in the deciding set as she broke twice en route to sealing a spot in the semi-finals.
There, she will face Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who earlier beat Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0.