US Open 2015: Devastating Djokovic throws out Cilic and throws down final gauntlet
Novak Djokovic thrashes Marin Cilic in straight sets to reach the US Open final in New York
Novak Djokovic was in a hurry.
Perhaps the change of schedule from early afternoon to early evening—forced by a washed-out women’s semi-final day—had upset his dinner plans.
Perhaps he was miffed at dropping a set in each of his last two matches, first to No23 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and then No18 seed Feliciano Lopez.
Perhaps he wanted to make sure the defending champion Marin Cilic, did not get into the hot groove that saw him race past Roger Federer at this stage last year, and then take out Kei Nishikori, who had beaten him in the other semi-final, in equally devastating style.
Whatever was going on in the heart and mind of Djokovic, he was brooking no nonsense. Three breaks of serve, three unforced errors, 24 minutes, and the world No1 was already 6-0 to the good.
And as the Sky comms helpfully pointed out, whenever Djokovic had won the opening set in a Grand Slam semi-final, he had won the match 13 out of 13 times.
Not that many favoured Cilic to wreak the same havoc this year as last. His season started badly with injury, such that he did not play a match until Indian Wells. By the French Open he had won only four matches, he fell to Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarters, and although he reached the semis in Washington, he picked up only one win from the Montreal and Cincinnati Masters.
Cilic had also battled through some long matches—a five-setter against Mikhail Kukushkin in the third round, four sets over Jeremy Chardy in the fourth and another five sets against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. And as if that back-story was not bad enough, he had not managed to beat Djokovic in 13 previous matches. Thirteen really is, for some, unlucky.
Contrast that with Djokovic’s year: 61 match-wins for five losses; a career-high 10 straight finals since winning the Australian Open; two Grand Slams and four Masters titles; fifth place on the all-time list of Grand Slam match-wins, at 205; and now the semis or better in 21 of his last 22 Majors.
He may have breathed a sigh of relief to avoid one of his biggest rivals, Rafael Nadal, in the quarters, and to see Nishikori, his scheduled semi-final opponent, lose in the first round. But he must have expected a bigger test against Cilic.
Perhaps, in the end, that was the reason that the No1 in tennis brought his No1 game to court, in anticipation of power serving, penetrating forehands, and plenty of aggressive tactics from the tall Croat.
Unfortunately for the crowd, though not for Djokovic, Cilic’s serve was well below par. He had hit only nine first serves into play in that opening set, and it got no better: 11 first serves in the second set. The Croat did not even have a game point until he had already defended a break point in the first game of Set 2, and he did finally get on the scoreboard.
But Djokovic’s tennis was simply devastating. He made winners off Cilic’s serve, retrieved everything the thrown at him, slid into extraordinary athletic reaches, picked up drops with winning lobs, and made hay on his own precise and varied serve: He dropped only three points in 19 service points in the set, broke twice, and took it, 6-1.
Djokovic was already a break up in the third set when the clock hit one hour, but there was a brief flurry from Cilic to take advantage of Djokovic’s only double fault in the match, and he levelled at 2-2. But it was a false dawn: Cilic would win not another game, as the 2011 champion closed it out in a remarkable hour and 25 minutes of tennis, 6-2.
He was asked about his latest ‘first’, reaching the final of every Major in one season: “Of course it’s a great achievement and I’m very proud of it. These are the tournaments where you want to perform your best… and this is the biggest and probably the most special stadium we have.
“I haven’t been very successful in the finals of the US Open, I’ve won one in the last four, but still I’ve been playing some of my best tennis on this court since 2007, my first Grand Slam final against Roger, so I look forward to it.”
He added with a smile: “I will definitely get ready to play a Swiss player!”
For Djokovic now awaits the victor between Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who happen to be two of the four men to beat the Serb this season.
And after his performance today, Djokovic will surely be feeling very confident about the outcome.