Nadal Continues Historical Pursuit Against Cilic
It was a historic resurgence in 2017 for Rafael Nadal, who became the oldest player in history to finish atop the ATP Rankings, claiming the year-end top spot for the fourth time in his career at age 31. But the top seed can make more history at Melbourne Park, as he tries to become the first player in the Open Era to win all four Grand Slam titles twice, which he can finish off with a win at this Australian Open.
But the Spaniard will have his work cut out for him in the quarter-finals against one of the other two Grand Slam champions left in the draw — No. 6 seed Marin Cilic.
“I know I’m going to have a tough opponent in front now [in] Cilic. I need to play aggressive and play well. That's what I’m going to try,” Nadal said after a four-set win in the fourth round against No. 24 seed Diego Schwartzman. “All the matches are tough, and if you are in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, you can't expect an easy match. Against Marin will be a tough one, but at the same time, it’s a beautiful match to play against a great player. We know each other.”
The pair have played six times, with Nadal leading their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 5-1. The World No. 1 has triumphed in each of their past five meetings, winning 11 of those 12 sets.
FedEx ATP Head2Head Series: Rafael Nadal vs. Marin Cilic
|2017||Rolex Shanghai Masters||SF||Rafael Nadal||7-5, 7-6(3)|
|2017||Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC||SF||Rafael Nadal||6-1, 6-2|
|2015||Swiss Indoors Basel||QF||Rafael Nadal||4-6, 6-3, 6-3|
|2011||Internazionali BNL D'Italia||QF||Rafael Nadal||6-1, 6-3|
|2011||Australian Open||R16||Rafael Nadal||6-2, 6-4, 6-3|
|2009||China Open||SF||Marin Cilic||6-1, 6-3|
“Throughout my career, I knew that if I'm playing well, if I'm top of my game, that I can challenge most of the guys on the tour,” Cilic said after his own fourth-round victory when asked about facing a tough opponent like Nadal. “I believe in my own game, I believe in what I'm doing. I think I'm moving the right direction. You know, it's obviously a big challenge playing them, but that's what we also work for in training.”
Nadal defeated Cilic twice last season, with both matches coming on hard court (Acapulco, Shanghai). But with that being said, both players have proven to be in good form in Melbourne, with the top seed dropping just one set thus far and the sixth seed only losing two sets.
But Nadal says that playing a tough opponent like Cilic is not all that different from other matches.
“[Whomever I play] today is the most dangerous player that I can play against, because [they are] the one that I’m going to play [today],” Nadal said.
Cilic is as dangerous as they come in the quarter-finals of a major, though, having won the 2014 US Open and advancing to the final at Wimbledon last year. The Croatian has a powerful baseline game accompanied by a booming serve to trouble anyone in the world when he is on form. And he is hungry for more success, too.
“My goal in this year is to win a Grand Slam. One or more would be good,” said a smiling Cilic. “Last year I reached No. 4 and No. 5, finished season at the No. 6 [in the ATP Rankings]. You know, it could have been in Top 5, as well. But looking at this year, my goal is to finish in the Top 5. It's a big challenge, but I'm improving every single year. That's a challenge that I want to succeed in.”
His first major challenge in pursuing that goal will be across the net on Rod Laver Arena Tuesday, when he faces Nadal for a spot in the semi-finals.