In a battle of the big guns in Toronto, world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic for a place in the semifinals. Nadal is having one of the better years of even his glittering career, having all but swept the clay court season before recording his best Wimbledon results since 2011. But Cilic, despite a disappointing second round exit at Wimbledon, is amongst the ATP’s most dangerous players. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Cilic have met seven times in a head-to-head the Spaniard leads 5-2. It was Cilic who claimed victory in their first encounter, however, downing Nadal 6-1 6-3 in Beijing in 2009. When their rivalry was renewed in 2011 in Melbourne, Nadal won 6-2 6-4 6-3 and beat him again later that year in Rome 6-1 6-3. Then in 2015 Nadal beat Cilic 4-6 6-3 6-3 in Basel, and in 2017 in Acapulco 6-1 6-2 and Shanghai 7-5 7-6. But in January in Melbourne, Cilic won when Nadal was forced to retire in the fifth.
Path to the quarterfinals
Nadal, who received a first-round bye, began his tournament against Benoit Paire. It proved a difficult day at the office for the Frenchman. He was pulled from pillar to post in the first set with little reward, losing it 2-6. The second was remarkable, featuring seven straight breaks, but again Paire came off worst as Nadal advanced a 6-2 6-3 victor. Nadal then withstood a barrage of winners to defeat Stan Wawrinka, rallying from a break down in the second to win 7-5 7-6.
Cilic, who also received a bye, faced his compatriot Borna Coric in his opener. He made a fine start, breaking the Coric serve midway through the first set to take it 6-3. But Coric fought back to win the second by the same score. In the decider, however, Cilic pulled away to win through 6-3 3-6 6-1. He then dismantled Argentinian #2 Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-2 in a hugely impressive performance that surely ranks amongst the best of his season.
How do they match up?
Nadal is arguably the complete baseliner. Equipped with impressive weapons, the crown jewel being his devastating forehand, Nadal is also a superb mover. More than once against Wawrinka, he took the best of what the Swiss could throw at him only to return with a winner of his own. And as impressive as his forehand is, it was his backhand that proved Wawrinka’s undoing. It was rock-solid when the Spaniard was defending and he ripped more than one cross-court past Wawrinka.
Cilic doesn’t have the formidable power of Wawrinka, but he is every bit as offensively minded. His serve, which was much improved by former coach Goran Ivanisevic, is amongst the best in the sport and he won 83% of the points behind it against both Coric and Schwartzman. Off the ground, he excels at using the pace of the court to his advantage, with both his forehand and backhand prone to skidding through the court. Cilic is also impressively mobile for such a big man.
This should be a close battle. Though Nadal has generally taken Cilic apart on slower courts such as on the clay in Rome or the gritty hard courts of Acapulco, on faster courts the Croatian has given as good as he’s got. Or at least he almost has. Nadal has still managed to edge him out most of the time. The Spaniard is such a great champion not only because of his impressive game but also due to his ability to get the win in even the most trying of circumstances. He will do so again in three in Toronto.