In a clash between two men looking to reach a second Roland Garros quarterfinal, third seed Marin Cilic takes on Italy’s Fabio Fognini. Cilic has never been at his best on the clay, preferring the quick hard and grass courts that suit his attacking style, but has turned himself to a more than competent clay courter. Fognini, meanwhile, has all the natural aptitude to play on clay courts, but his attitude has too often let him down, particularly at Roland Garros. Who will win this one?
Cilic and Fognini have met three times previously over the course of their careers although somewhat strangely not since 2011. Their first meeting came two years earlier in 2009 at the Monte Carlo Masters in the second round with Fognini delivering a dominant performance to oust the Croatian for the loss of just two games. Two years later in front of his home fans in Umag, it was Cilic’s turn to win, crushing Fognini 6-2 6-2 in the semifinals. Cilic then beat Fognini again that year in Beijing 6-2 6-7 6-3.
Path to the fourth round
Cilic began his French Open campaign with a solid 6-3 7-5 7-6 win against Australia’s James Duckworth, who was playing just his third tournament of the year and first since January. The world #4 then defeated the 21-year-old Polish qualifier Hubert Hurkacz in four sets, despite some spirited late resistance from the Pole, 6-2 6-2 6-7 7-5. Cilic then overcame Steve Johnson, who reached the final in Geneva ahead of the French Open, in straight sets 6-3 6-2 6-4.
Fognini scored an impressive 6-4 6-2 6-1 win over the Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar, who is still working his way back from a long period out with injury, to reach the second round. He backed that up with another comfortable victory, knocking out the young Swede Elias Ymer 6-4 6-1 6-2. That set up a third round clash with Kyle Edmund, the 16th seed from Britain. It was a bruising encounter, but it was Fognini who advanced to the round of 16 a 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 winner.
How do they match up?
Though Fognini is capable of playing aggressive, first-strike tennis, the Italian generally prefers to play more defensively and use his opponent’s power against them. That will leave Cilic to do most of the pressing in this match, which will suit the big man well. He has developed into a very impressive server, and has hit 31 aces already this tournament, although he has also hit 10 double faults. His forehand is his biggest weapon off the ground, with the Croatian playing it inside-out particularly well.
His attacking quality will receive a real test against Fognini. The Italian, despite occasionally appearing a little flat-footed, is an excellent mover. He also defends well out of the corners, particularly on his backside which is rock-solid, although he is not at the level of the truly great defenders, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. His forehand can also break down, particularly when the Italian is given too much time on the ball, as he has a tendency to go for the extravagant when the simple would suffice.
How much is left in Fognini’s legs could prove crucial in this match after a taxing third round win. But, he was not on court for long in the first two rounds, so it should not be too big of a problem for the Italian, who will fancy his chances of an upset here, and rightly so. He moves well enough to blunt the Cilic attack on a clay court where the Croatian is forced to generate more of the power himself than he likes to. If Fognini can deliver a focused performance, he should find himself in a second Roland Garros quarterfinal.