Pune: World No 6 Marin Cilic could well become a hot property in Melbourne at the 2018 Australian Open with a spate of withdrawals by top notch players, but the Croat is ready to take the hard route into the summer Down Under after he scripted a routine victory over No 8 seed Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, at the ATP 250 Series Tata Open Maharashtra here on Thursday.
Firing down seven aces against just two from Herbert, Cilic completed a 6-3, 6-2 win in an hour and 4 minutes to storm into the semifinals of the event that he won in 2009 when it was hosted in Chennai. Also joining him was South African Kevin Anderson, who was stretched to the distance by No 7 seed Mikhail Kukushkin, who pushed well above his waist to take the contest into three sets at the Balewadi Tennis Complex.
As the news of Briton Andy Murray’s withdrawal from the year’s first Grand Slam came in it was but obvious that Cilic was prodded with questions as to whether the key withdrawals from the Australian Open would open up the draw in Melbourne.
“The tour has been like this for many years. So many top players suffering from injuries at the start of the year is a unique situation, but that will not make me relax. I will keep my focus intact,” said Cilic when asked about Murray and Kei Nishikori pulling out of Melbourne’s Slam event.
There are lingering doubts over Novak Djokovic too, but the 29-year-old would not like to be thinking on those lines.
“You can’t predict the outcome of a tournament like Australia Open or for that matter any tournament. You could be in great form but could still end up losing a match, so I won’t be thinking about that,” he said after beating Herbert.
“It is really unfortunate that so many top players are hampered by injuries since the last few months,” he said and refused to blame the rigorous format of the ATP Tour for the injuries, as suggested.
“There are many young players coming up and they pushed the senior players in 2017. So, the Tour is as competitive as ever, “said Cilic, who hardly broke sweat in beating Herbert in the first quarterfinal encounter on the Centre Court.
Playing his only second competitive match after the winter break, Cilic earned early break against Herbert when he earned three break points in the sixth game of the first set.
Back-to-back forehand slicing crosscourt winners handed him the break he was looking for after Herbert gave him some tense moments midway through the set.
Over and above Cilic looked to be in fine fettle and shaping up well for the Australian Open but the Croat would like to work on a couple of points before actually reaching Melbourne.
“For this match, I concentrated on a couple of things that I was not in my first match. So, I paid attention to a couple of details from the first match... things with which I was not satisfied. I just focused on my game and did not think much about my opponent,” said Cilic.
“I am not a perfectionist but if there is one per cent chance or one shot that could be improved, then I will be working on that.”
Quarterfinals: 1-Marin Cilic (Cro) bt 8-Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Fra) 6-3, 6-2; Gilles Simon (Fra) bt q-Ricardo Ojeda Lara (Esp) 6-2, 6-3; 4-Benoit Paire (Fra) bt 5-Robin Haase (Ned) 7-5, 2-6, 6-3; 2-Kevin Anderson (Rsa) bt 7-Mikhail Kukushkin (Kaz) 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-2.
Quarterfinals: Yuki Bhambri (Ind) and Divij Sharan (Ind) bt 1-Robert Lindstedt (Swe) and Franko Skugor (Cro) 7-5, 2-6, 10-6; Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Fra) and Gilles Simon (Fra) bt 4-Rohan Bopanna (Ind) and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (Ind) 6-3, 7-5; 2-Robin Haase (Ned) and Matwe Middelkoop (Ned) bt Adil Shamasdin (Can) and Neal Skupski (Gbr) 6-3, 7-5.
Kevin Anderson Factfile
- 2017 W-L: 32-21 (18-13 on hard)
- 2017 Titles: 0 / Career Titles: 3
- Date of Birth: May 18, 198
- ATP Ranking: 14
- Reached 1st Grand Slam final at US Open as World No. 32 (l. to No. 1 Nadal), becoming lowest-ranked US Open finalist since inception of rankings in 1973 and Grand Slam finalist since No. 38 Tsonga at 2008 Australian Open
- Became 1st South African US Open finalist in Open Era and Grand Slam finalist since Curren at 1984 Australian Open
- Also tallest Grand Slam finalist in Open Era at 6-foot-8, oldest 1st-time Grand Slam finalist at age 31 since Pilic at 1973 Roland Garros, and 1st Grand Slam finalist who played college tennis (Illinois) since Todd Martin at 1999 US Open.
- Reached Estoril SF (l. to Muller), Geneva QF (l. to Nishikori after holding 3 MPs) and Stockholm QF (l. to Verdasco).
Mikhail (Kukushkin) is a very tricky opponent to play against. I think he made very good returns during crunch situations. My idea was to stay patient and keep playing and wait for break points to attack.
(South African No 2 seed)
Some players that we have, maybe Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal), Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray), they are incredibly good physical players, they have those natural abilities. You are born with them, with certain training you get better with them.
(Croatian World No 6)