Queen’s 2018: Marin Cilic powers to big-man showdown as Querrey ends Wawrinka hopes

Marin Cilic sets up a Queen's Clubs quarter-final clash against Sam Querrey

Marin Cilic
Marin Cilic Photo: Marianne Bevis

Among all the former champions playing at The Queen’s Club this week, only one man had a better record than the top seed, Marin Cilic, and that was five-time champion Andy Murray.

The Briton, of course, was taking his tentative first strides into grass competition this week after a year away, and lost a tight one against Nick Kyrgios—leaving Cilic as the stand-out remaining player in the tournament.

Some have played just as often, and others have also won the title: Grigor Dimitrov is 15-8 here, Sam Querrey 20-9, Feliciano Lopez 20-11.

But for consistency at each and every visit, there are few who can compare with the tall man from Croatia. Cilic won in 2012, and made the finals in 2013 and last year, making a run of 25-9. And after becoming one of those rare beasts, a Grand Slam winner, back in 2014, he has continued to work his way up the ladder.

Only this January, he hit a career-high No3 after reaching this second Major final in six months at the Australian Open. And his results at Wimbledon have also continued an upwards trajectory: three quarter-finals since 2014, and the final last year.

Good reason, then, for the modest Cilic to feel particularly confident as the tour heads onto the turf. Yes, he admitted, he felt comfortable on the grass.

“The last four years, I’ve played really well on grass. And the last few weeks have given me confidence as I played well in Rome and Paris.”

He made his first clay Masters semi at the former and his second quarter-final in a row at Roland Garros.

“Luckily, I’m feeling physically well. The last year has been best for me on grass.”

But he has not rested on his laurels. Many times through the course of two press conferences in London, he stressed that he constantly works towards and expects improvement, and last year’s success served only to sharpen the resolve this time around,

“This year, it’s a new year, new season. You start all over again. You can’t live on the glory from last year. You have to show that again, and hopefully, this tournament is going to bring me back to the form, bring those memories of playing great and obviously, I’m pushing myself to get better and better every single match.”

His opener was impressive enough, a 6-3, 6-4 win over the dangerous big-hitter, Fernando Verdasco. Cilic dropped only four points on serve in the match, winning 28/29 of first serves and offering up not a single break point chance.

Sixty-six minutes, and then a day’s rest: He would be fit and ready for a formidable second challenge.

Gilles Muller is a big man with all the tools to thrive on grass. The 35-year-old is 6ft 4ins tall, weighs in at 89kgs, and is ranked 46—but was up to 21 less than a year ago before injury played a part in his slide. This late bloomer made six finals before he won a title, and then he won two last year—including one on the grass of s-Hertogenbosch.

Last year, Muller reached his first quarter-final at Wimbledon, taking out Rafael Nadal in the process, and then lost out to Cilic himself, in a three-and-a-half-hour five-setter. And that after, just two weeks before, the two men going to three sets in the semis at Queen’s. Cilic won that too, but their results served to show how close this latest one may be.

Muller, like Cilic, had also beaten a significant opponent in his opener, the exciting teenager ranked 23, Denis Shapovalov. He would now press Cilic to the limits through a tough three sets and a combined tally of 36 aces.

Muller had the upper hand initially, breaking in the fifth game and holding that advantage to its 6-4 conclusion, after just 37 minutes.

But the increasingly vocal Cilic focused, slotted his serve superbly, and got a quick break in the second. Again, that was all that was required: he served out the set, 6-3, having reached 91 percent on his first delivery and losing just two points on serve in the set.

Both tried to take the initiative, but Cilic had the greater speed and strength at the baseline. He pumped to his box, chided himself for mistakes—though there were few—and got a quick break. Not until the final stages, however, did Muller flag just a little, and Cilic broke one last time for the set and match, 6-3.

Stan Wawrinka’s story at Queen’s once again came to a premature end, though he may be buoyed up by his overall performance this year. After all, the Swiss man’s record here was not encouraging: one match-win in his last three visits. Make that two wins now, having put out Cameron Norrie in his opener, and he stacked up a good few chances against former champion Querrey, too.

Wawrinka had set points in the 10th game of the first set, but the big American slammed the door time and again with his huge serving. After a marathon effort, lots of fist pumping and roaring at himself, Wawrinka let the chance go and was instead broken in the next game. Querrey served it out after 46 minutes, 7-5.

And make no mistake: Querrey has had more success on grass than many. As well as a Queen’s title, he last year made the semis at Wimbledon. Even so, Wawrinka looked the stronger in the second set, did not offer up a break point, had another chance to break for the set at 6-5, but instead stormed through the tie-break, 7-6(3).

However, he could not live with the American in the third, still perhaps too short of match-fitness after making four first-round exits in the five events he has played since February. And that after missing the last six months of 2017 due to double knee surgery.

Querrey broke early, 1-3, did not allow Wawrinka another game, and ended the match with 25 aces. As always, he will prove to be a dangerous opponent for Cilic in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Wawrinka was rightly optimistic about his progress:

“It was a tough match, but I think in general this is a positive loss for me, if I really look at the right thing in the right way. For sure, I’m sad and frustrated because I need to win matches, I want to win matches… But there is a lot to take in the right way, and I’m sure if I can keep doing the right thing day by day, building on this and keep trying to improve, the results will come. I need to be patient with that.”

Elsewhere, Jeremy Chardy continued his hot streak of form to beat Daniil Medvedev, 7-6(6), 6-3, and will next play Frances Tiafoe, who beat Leonardo Mayer, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

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