Cilic Rounding Into Form In Rome
Croatian to face Carreno Busta for second time in 2018
After reaching this year's Australian Open final, Marin Cilic struggled to find his best form, reaching one quarter-final in five events. But it appears that the World No. 5 is poised for a run at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
Cilic overcame an early break in the second set to oust Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-4 in 87 minutes on Thursday, reaching the quarter-finals in Rome for the third time and for the second consecutive year.
"Benoit is an extremely difficult player to play. Never know what to expect from him," Cilic said. "I'm really happy with the way I was playing and hitting the ball."
The Croatian still seeks his first tour-level title of the season, which would give him at least one trophy in 11 consecutive years. He will look to move into the semi-finals in the Italian capital for the first time against Pablo Carreno Busta.
It wasn't easy getting there, though. In the Croat's first service game of the second set, Paire aggressively hit a crosscourt backhand return that Cilic could not handle, getting the early break. But the fourth seed's patience in baseline rallies, awaiting proper opportunities to attack, paid dividends. While the Frenchman used his two-handed backhand and deft touch to make the match competitive, it was not enough against the 29-year-old.
"I'm getting back into form. Obviously important for me to get a few matches," Cilic said. "Getting back into shape. That's most important and I'm hoping I can continue the good tennis."
His next opponent, Carreno Busta, was almost home and dry - up a set and 5-0 - but was required to work for a further 70 minutes in a tense victory over Aljaz Bedene.
The No. 10 seed saw two match points come and go at 5-4 in the second set on Next Gen Arena at the Foro Italico, but he managed to regroup for the decider and complete a 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2 win in two hours and 37 minutes. Cilic leads Carreno Busta 2-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including victory in this year’s Australian Open fourth round.
"Just have to keep my high level of tennis. Pablo is playing really well. Clay is one of his favourite surfaces," Cilic said. "We played a tough match in Australia. I have to get ready, play another good match and hopefully I can go through."
The World No. 11 worked hard for the 55-minute opener, initially taking 2-0 and 4-2 leads, prior to Bedene coming within two points of 5-5. The Spaniard made the decisive breakthrough with consistent forehand depth, ending with Bedene striking a forehand down the line wide at 4-5, 30/40.
Carreno Busta swept to a 5-0 lead in the second set, with two powerful forehands that caught Bedene off guard in the second and fourth games. The 26-year-old served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4, but his confidence and reliable forehand faltered as Bedene won 16 of 22 points to recover to 4-5.
A good serve from Bedene and a nervous backhand, pushed long, saw Carreno Busta miss out on two match-point opportunities in the 10th game, but the Spaniard soon regrouped with a solid hold. In the tie-break, Bedene rose to the occasion for an incredible turnaround, finishing with a backhand drop shot winner.
Carreno Busta broke in the first and fifth games of the decider for a place in his second Masters 1000 quarter-final of the year (also Miami) and his 18th match (18-10).
Did You Know?
Marin Cilic has been inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings since 31 October 2016. He reached his career-best of No. 3 earlier this year.