2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic has reminded the tennis world why he is a title-contender at the Majors over the past 18 months, barring a disappointing second-round loss at Wimbledon. But in New York he will be hoping to be more than just a contender. Standing between him and a place in the round of 32 is Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who is making his US Open debut. Will he be able to topple the mighty Cilic or will the seventh seed advance?
This will be the second meeting between Cilic and Hurkacz. The first came in the second round at Roland Garros earlier this year. Hurkacz was then playing in his first Grand Slam and was fresh from claiming his first Tour-level win against Tennys Sandgren in the round of 128. But he found Cilic a rather different proposition. The Croatian started well, storming to a 6-2 6-2 lead. He failed to close it out in the third set, losing a tiebreaker, but wrapped up the win by taking the fourth 7-5.
Path to the second round
Cilic, by his own admission, played one of the worst matches of his life to lose to Guido Pella at Wimbledon, having been two sets to the good. But he enjoyed a good start to the hard court swing, reaching the quarterfinals in Toronto and the last four in Cincinnati. He was pitted against Marius Copil in first-round action in New York, who he had beaten in Ohio. Copil made a fast start, at one point leading 5-1. But Cilic fought back and Copil retired trailing 5-7 1-6 1-1 with a thigh injury.
Hurkacz began his US Open in the qualifying and was aiming to reach his third straight Grand Slam main draw as a qualifier. He did so, beating Jordan-Patrick Smith, Egor Gerasimov and Pedro Martinez Portero, all in straight sets, to reach the US Open proper. There he faced Italy’s Stefano Travaglia in the first round. It was shaping up to be a fine contest, but Travaglia, like many others, fell victim to the extreme heat and retired trailing 2-6 6-2 6-7 0-2.
How do they match up?
Cilic and Hurkacz are both big-hitters which is no surprise when it is remembered that Hurkacz stands 6’5” and Cilic is an inch taller still. But the source of the Croatian’s considerable success is not as simple as his power. Rather, it is his ability to play within himself and still either overpower or outlast most opponents. His serve, which improved markedly under the tutelage of Goran Ivanisevic, is a very effective weapon for Cilic, as is his forehand.
His backhand is a weakness in comparison nor is he one of the best volleyers in the sport. But, those are weaknesses that typically only the very best are able to expose. Hurkacz, for his part, is an effective server and can hit powerfully from both his forehand and backhand. But, like many of the Tour’s more powerful players, consistency is an issue. He is also not a particularly mobile player and Cilic is his superior by some distance defensively.
When last these two met, Hurkacz gave a good account of himself when the match was already lost. But when Cilic laid the hammer down, he was ultimately unable to live with the Croatian, and that was on clay, which is his favourite surface. On a hard court, where Cilic is most at home, it is hard to see Hurkacz getting the better of him. Expect Cilic to reach the third round for the ninth time in New York with a straight sets win.