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Djokovic vs Cilic Nitto ATP Finals Preview, Predictions and Live Streaming: Cilic's semi-final hopes in the balance as he takes on perfect Djokovic in final group match

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 15 Nov 2018
  • Novak Djokovic vs Marin Cilic is live from London on Friday, 16 November from 9:00pm local time/ 8:00pm GMT
  • Djokovic leads 16-2 on head-to-head but the last four meetings have been split
  • Djokovic already through to the semi-finals; Cilic needs a win, and a little help from elsewhere
Novak Djokovic. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

Already guaranteed a spot in the semifinals, Novak Djokovic will attempt to maintain his perfect record, and finish off Marin Cilic at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals when they meet in the final match of Group Guga Kuerten on Friday.

With 200 ranking points on offer for every round robin win, this isn't exactly a dead rubber for Djokovic, while he is also yet to secure top spot in the group, which would mean he avoids Roger Federer in the semi-finals.

The world number one will also be keen to carry on a winning momentum into the last four, as he chases a record-equaling sixth title at the year-end Finals. Djokovic will be delighted to have been spared the often complicated qualification scenarios that accompany these final group matches. He's already through to the semis, regardless of whatever happens on Friday, while the only combination of results that can knock him off top spot are a loss to Cilic and victory for Isner over Zverev in the day's earlier match.

The situation is more complex for Cilic, as he may win, and still get eliminated. He will definitely be knocked out of the tournament if he loses to Djokovic. Cilic's fate might have been decided before he steps on court against Djokovic, as victory for Zverev over Isner in Friday's first match will be good enough to take the German into the semis, along with Djokovic. 

Hence, simply put, Cilic needs Isner to beat Zverev to keep his hopes alive, and he must beat Djokovic in the night match to qualify. Hope that helps!

Djokovic was in outstanding form against Isner in his tournament opener, dismissing the big-serving American 6-4 6-3. The world No. 1 was pushed hard by Zverev in the initial phase of his second match on Wednesday, needing to fend off two break points while serving at 4-4, but the Serbian weathered that storm, and once he got the break in the next game, via a Zverev double fault, the world squeezed the accelerator and raced away with the rest of the match. It was typical Djokovic in many ways, finding a way to survive, before pulling away from a dispirited opponent. Djokovic has now won 13 of his 16 matches against top ten opposition in 2018. The three losses came during an uncertain opening half of the year, when he underwent elbow surgery and generally struggled for form. He has however compiled a stunning second half, winning titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, Cincinnati and Shanghai, surging from being ranked outside the top-20 in May to seal the year-end No. 1 ranking in a spectacular resurgence. 

While the Serbian looks ahead to his eighth semi-final at the year-end Finals, his next opponent, Cilic is attempting to reach the last four for the first time.

The Croatian had limped to a dismal 1-8 record in his three previous appearances at the tournament, and his London problems worsened with a 7-6 7-6 loss to Alexander Zverev in his 2018 opener, despite leading by a break in both sets.

Marin Cilic. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Defeat against Isner in his second group match would have meant elimination, and the Croatian was on the ropes when he lost the opening set tie break to the American. However, with his tournament on the line, the former US Open champion conjured up a tremendous spell of returning to turn the match on its head. Getting one break against the Isner serve is tough enough, but to force three consecutive breaks of serve against the American is truly special. Cilic had created just one break point in a set and a half, but something clicked midway through the second set, as he began to get more meaningful returns into play, and even struck outright winners off Isner's serve.

The pressure told on Isner, who contributed two ill-timed double faults on break points to help Cilic's cause. Cilic had failed to convert two break points at 3-2 in the second set, but he forced the breakthrough at 4-3, breaking via one of those Isner double faults. He closed out the set confidently in the next game. The 30-year-old seemed to have gained complete control when he broke in the first game of the deciding set, but Cilic had thrown away quite a few winning positions in recent months, and those demons threatened to strike again when the Croatian gave up his serve with a really poor game. Remarkably, Cilic cast aside that disappointment and broke again, and this time, he held on to his lead to claim the win that keeps him well in the hunt for a semifinal berth.

He will watch in hope as Zverev plays Isner in the day's earlier match, rooting for an American win to keep him in the tournament, ahead of his must-win match against Djokovic later in the day.

Cilic has a poor 2-16 record against Djokovic, but he has narrowed the gap between the two in recent meetings, with his two wins coming within the last four matches. One of those wins was at Queen's, where he saved match point before beating the Serbian in the final to win his only title of 2018 so far. Djokovic has since responded with victories in Cincinnati and Paris, where he recovered from a set down, and a break down in the final set to extend his dominance over the Croatian.

“It was a great match, tough one in Paris, similar conditions to here,” Cilic said. “I feel that Novak is playing really good tennis and I just have to keep playing well. Obviously to serve well is going to be critical and I hope I’m going to be ready and have another great match.”

Cilic, at his very best, when he is serving well, and striking the ball confidently, is more than a match for Djokovic, but he does struggle to maintain that level through the course of a match, especially at critical moments against the very best players. He cannot afford those lapses against a supremely confident and consistent Djokovic. 

The odds are stacked against him on Friday. First, he needs Isner to beat Zverev, and then he must beat Djokovic later in the day. The chances of those two events occurring are not exactly high. 

Novak Djokovic vs Marin Cilic is live from London on Friday, 16 November from 9:00pm local time/ 8:00pm GMT

*Geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify

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Djokovic vs Cilic Nitto ATP Finals Preview, Predictions and Live Streaming: Cilic's semi-final hopes in the balance as he takes on perfect Djokovic in final group match

Novak Djokovic takes on Marin Cilic in the final round robin match at the Nitto ATP Finals on Friday. Can Cilic score a rare win over the world No. 1? Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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