Tata Open Maharashtra: Marin Cilic stays on courseJanuary 6, 2018
Anderson wards off Kukushkin’s challenge to make semis
The last time Marin Cilic got past the quarterfinal stage of his season-opener was way back in 2010 at the erstwhile Chennai Open.
On Thursday, he erased this blot with a devastating swish, thrashing France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3, 6-2 at the Tata Open Maharashtra. He will next meet another Frenchman in Gilles Simon who easily overcame Spaniard Ricardo Ojeda Lara 6-2, 6-3.
Whatever the form, Herbert’s is a style which keeps one guessing. His is a game which flows predominantly from his serve — a hybrid of John McEnroe’s stance and Pete Sampras’ swing. On the day it did justice to neither legend.
Whereas in his previous round against Yuki Bhambri, he had often served his way out of trouble, against Cilic, he made just two aces while committing five double faults.
Cilic though was at his marauding best. He won a whopping 96% of his first serve points (23/24), struck seven aces and allowed Herbert not a single break point.
Herbert’s cardinal sin was in letting Cilic have ample time on the ball. With both the court and the opponent at his mercy, the Croat is not one to miss out. A break to love in the sixth game was enough to pocket the set.
And when Cilic broke Herbert in the opening game of the second, the match had an unmistakable air of an exhibition. He hurried Herbert, especially on the backhand side. The latter was forced into a defensive slice almost always and Cilic was only too eager to knock them off.
“He’s a very solid player,” said Cilic of Herbert. “An aggressive player when coming in and also a good server. But I was focused on my own game. I was serving well and that gave me a lot of free points. Overall, I felt in control.”
In the about the same time Cilic took to beat Herbert — an hour and four minutes — second seed Kevin Anderson and Mikhail Kukushkin fought each other to a standstill to force the first set into a tie-break.
So scrappy was the tennis, the two had raked up 17 unforced errors each with just six games played. It only mounted to uneasier levels and in the tie-break Anderson hit five consecutive ones to lose the set.
Kukushkin’s niggling-low hitting style routinely sent balls away from Anderson’s strike zone. At 6’8” the South African was always going to find it tough to reach them. Yet, he gathered himself, managed a solitary break in the seventh game of the second and levelled matters.
Then at the start of the third, the two scrapped again. While serving at 1-1, Anderson’s serve came under threat. Once he escaped, courtesy a few of those 24 aces he served in all, he bolted to victory. He will next spar with fourth seed Benoit Paire, who came through a tough three-setter against Robin Hasse.
The results: Quarterfinals: Singles: Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Fra) 6-3, 6-2; Kevin Anderson (Rsa) bt Mikhail Kukushkin (Kaz) 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2; Gilles Simon (Fra) bt Ricardo Ojeda Lara (Esp) 6-2, 6-3; Benoit Paire (Fra) bt Robin Hasse (Ned) 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.