Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic begins his French Open campaign against Australia’s James Duckworth, who is competing in his fourth Roland Garros main draw. Cilic’s season began well when he made his third Slam final in Melbourne, but the Croatian will be disappointed with the tennis he has played since, having failed to make another final. Duckworth is playing his first main draw of the year and currently finds himself out of the top thousand. Could he spring a huge shock or will Cilic have too much?
Cilic and Duckworth, who are separated by three years in age, have never before met in their careers. But in terms of experience, there is a vast gulf between them. Whilst Cilic is a Grand Slam champion after his victory in New York in 2014, and has made the final at a Major on two further occasions (Wimbledon, 2016 and Melbourne Park, 2017), Duckworth has never been beyond the second round at a Major. Whilst Cilic has 453 match wins and 17 titles, Duckworth has just 19 wins and no titles.
Last time out
Cilic began his clay court season looking to recapture the form that had taken him to the Australian Open final and there pushed Roger Federer to five sets. Cilic had held break point early in the decider in that match and his failure to take it seemed to stay with him in the tournaments he played thereafter. But quality will always overcome form, and Cilic’s began to shine through as the clay court swing progressed, particularly in Rome where he reached the semifinals, delivering a clinical quarterfinal performance to oust Carreno Busta along the way.
Duckworth’s last competitive tennis was played in January at the Australian Open in the qualifiers. After losing in the first round of qualifiers in Brisbane to Ernesto Escobedo, Duckworth scored a fine straight sets win over his countryman Omar Jasika in the first round of qualifiers in Melbourne. But he was beaten in the second round by Germany’s Matthias Bachinger 6-4 6-4. It was a match that showed how far Duckworth had to go to get back to the sort of tennis he was playing when he broke into the top 100.
How do they match up?
Cilic, who is perhaps less powerful than his big frame would suggest, is at his best on quick hard courts, as his victories in New York and Cincinnati illustrate. But the Croatian is a tennis player of sufficient quality to be comfortable on any surface. Equipped with a powerful serve, that benefitted greatly from the coaching of Goran Ivanisevic, and a fine forehand, Cilic is a dominant force from the back of the court. He is also a good mover for a man of his size.
Duckworth’s strengths are to be found in a powerful serve and a big forehand. Early in his career, Duckworth took the unusual stance of standing wide when serving, but has since abandoned that tactic. He will rely on his forehand to take on Cilic off the ground, but though the Australian hits his forehand with heavy topspin, it can often fall short leaving him vulnerable. There are few players who move on to short balls better than Cilic, so it will be crucial that Duckworth maintains good length.
Duckworth was building a respectable career for himself until a serious foot problem sustained early in 2017 put him out of action, long-term. It’s good to see him back on the Tour, and hopefully he can start to find some results and work his way back into the top 100. But that process won’t start against Cilic. The world #4 is deserving of his ranking, and he will have far too much power and guile for Duckworth. Expect Cilic to advance in straight sets.