Former Rotterdam runner-up Marin Cilic has won five of six matches against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – will he get a sixth win in Friday’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament quarterfinals?
Marin Cilic faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a place in the semifinals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam on Friday.
Runner-up to Tomas Berdych at the 500-level Rotterdam event in 2014, eight of Cilic’s 16 career titles have come on indoor hard courts – four Zagreb titles, one in St Petersburg, two in Moscow and finally one at the Swiss Indoors Basel in 2016 – and the big Croatian seems to enjoy the even bounce, quick courts and lack of wind and atmospheric factors, which help him set up for his big groundstrokes and get the most out of his booming serve, which characterize indoors tennis.
A quarterfinalist in Rotterdam last year, when he lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber, Cilic won’t want to repeat that last-eight exit but it hasn’t exactly been a smooth campaign for the Croatian so far. Against Benoit Paire in the first round, Cilic came back from a set down to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-2; facing his youthful compatriot Borna Coric in the second round, a player Cilic had dominated easily in the past, the top seed took his foot off the gas after dominating the first set and ended up having to fight hard in the third set, saving five break points at 3-3 before finally breaking through and pulling away.
‘It proved to be the deciding game. I managed to win that game and I’m really happy I kept my focus,’ Cilic said.
‘I think we both played really good tennis. I started to get into a good rhythm at the end of that first set but then I lost my serve in the middle of that second set when he came up with some amazing shots,’ Cilic added.
‘Obviously, he was showing great fighting spirit and I knew it was going to be tough in that third set. I just tried to be mentally strong. Just a few points decided the outcome.’
Now coached by Jonas Bjorkman, Cilic ended 2016 at a career-high world no. 6 but hasn’t started 2017 well, winning just one of his first four matches after shock defeats to Jozef Kovalik in Chennai, Dan Evans at the Australian Open and Dustin Brown in Montpellier.
The Croatian is looking for his first semifinal of 2017 at the Ahoy Rotterdam, but first he will have to get past the not inconsiderable obstacle that is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who opened his 2017 season by making the quarterfinals of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha and at the Australian Open, where he lost to Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in what was his 15th quarterfinal appearance at a major.
ABN AMRO WTT 2017 live stream: ATP tennis live from Rotterdam
This time last year, Tsonga was making an ill-fated expedition to South America for the Golden Swing – he went 1-2 in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro – and in 2017, he has sensibly decided to stick to what he knows and play the European indoors tournaments. A semifinalist last week in Montpellier at the Open Sud de France, where he lost to eventual champion Alexander Zverev, Tsonga is making his fifth appearance at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in 2017 – and has won back-to-back matches for the first time since he finished runner-up to Robin Soderling in 2011, recording straight-sets victories over wildcard Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sydney champion Gilles Muller to book his place in Friday’s quarterfinals.
‘I’m definitely looking forward to it,’ Cilic said.
‘It will be a tough match as always. There isn’t much that will separate us. We both have good serves and powerful games. I’ll have to be mentally strong and keep up my good tennis.’
Cilic owns a 5-3 head-to-head advantage against Tsonga, and it’s an even more impressive 5-1 if you discount (as the ATP World Tour official statistics do) the two Challenger matches they played against each other in 2007. Not since the Cincinnati Masters in 2011 has Tsonga beaten Cilic, and their only previous indoors meeting, which came at Rotterdam in 2014, was a 6-4, 6-4 victory for the Croatian.
Cilic and Tsonga’s last meeting was a little fiery, a five-set quarterfinal at the US Open in 2015 in which Cilic held off a comeback from Tsonga from two sets down, but I like Cilic to come through this quarterfinal clash – the conditions suit him and the two tough matches he has had so far have actually worked in his favour, playing him into form after a lackluster start to the season. It should be the 2014 Rotterdam runner-up who comes through to the semifinals on Friday.
Cilic vs Tsonga is scheduled on Centre Court in Rotterdam on Friday at 2pm local/1pm GMT