Two men who have rather gone under the radar so far in Paris, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, face off for a place in the French Open semifinals. The Argentine has reached that stage once before, in 2009 when he pushed eventual champion Roger Federer to five sets. For Cilic, this is a second consecutive quarterfinal at Roland Garros, but the Croatian has never been further. Who will find themselves in the semifinals?
Cilic and del Potro have met twelve times so far in their careers, in a head-to-head that del Potro has dominated. He won their first two matches, both of which came in 2009, including in the US Open quarterfinals 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1 on his way to winning his first Major title. Cilic had his revenge in the fourth round of the Australian Open, winning in five sets in the fourth round. They then split a pair of clashes at Masters 1000 level in 2011, with del Potro winning in Madrid and Cilic in Canada.
Since then, however, it has been all del Potro. The Argentine has picked up another seven wins at Cilic’s expense, including twice in Davis Cup action, notably in 2016 when he rallied from a two set deficit to win in five in a final which the Argentinians eventually won. They have met once before at Roland Garros, although it was five years ago, with del Potro winning in the third round 6-3 7-6 6-1. Their most recent meeting came last year in the Basel semifinals, which del Potro won 6-4 6-4.
Path to the quarterfinals
With his fitness uncertain coming into the French Open, del Potro’s position did not look hopeful when he dropped the first set 1-6 against Nicolas Mahut. But he turned the match around impressively, eventually winning fairly comfortably 1-6 6-1 6-2 6-4. He then dispatched Julien Benneteau, who was playing at Roland Garros for the last time, 6-4 6-3 6-2. That was followed by a comprehensive 7-5 6-4 6-1 win against Albert Ramos Vinolas, and a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory against the big serving John Isner.
Cilic began his French Open campaign with a 6-3 7-5 7-6 victory against Australia’s James Duckworth, who was playing on a protected ranking. That was followed by a four set victory over 21-year-old Pole, Hubert Hurkacz, which Cilic backed up by defeating Houston titlist Steve Johnson 6-3 6-2 6-4. Cilic then emerged victorious from a five-set battle with Fabio Fognini where despite squandering a two-set lead he eventually triumphed 6-4 6-1 3-6 6-7 6-3.
How do they match up?
Both men are big hitters although del Potro particularly. The ‘Tower of Tandil’, who stands 6’6” tall fills his frame and has the power to match it. His forehand is his biggest weapon, and there has surely never been one hit with such venom in the game before. His backhand, though weakened by the two wrist surgeries del Potro underwent in 2014 and 2015, is used well by del Potro despite its limitations, and he has begun to once again hit it with power down the line.
Cilic doesn’t have the same power as del Potro off the ground although he is the better server of the two. He is at his best on faster courts, where he can use the pace of the surface to his advantage. But, the Croatian has now reached back-to-back quarterfinals at Roland Garros, which illustrates the improvements he has made on the ‘terre battue’. He would do well in this match to go with pace to the del Potro forehand, with the Argentine actually defending his backhand side better.
Though both players come into this match in good form, del Potro has clearly enjoyed this matchup a lot more than Cilic. He is also the more natural clay courter of the two. His forehand is a deadly weapon on any surface and he has been using it to cut opponents down to size since he arrived in the French capital. Cilic will it be its latest victim in four sets, with the Croatian just short of the weaponry to answer it and the defensive skills to tame it.