Marin Cilic keeps WTFs and Davis Cup on radar, but Goffin beaten in Basel
Marin Cilic is still hoping to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals after reaching the quarter-finals in Basel
The stakes for a lot of the men playing at the two ATP500s this week are high, but for some they are higher than others.
Take Andy Murray, top seed in Vienna and attempting the close the gap on Novak Djokovic and the No1 ranking. The title would take him to fewer than 500 points behind the Serb as they head into the Paris Masters and its 1,000 points.
Dominic Thiem was within touching distance of sealing a place at the World Tour Finals, and even Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retained a mathematical chance of doing the same.
But nowhere was the Race to London written in more stark numbers than in Basel for No10 ranked David Goffin and No11 Marin Cilic.
What’s more, Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the rest of the season bumped Goffin and Cilic up to Nos9 and 10. If the 25-year-old Belgian won the Basel title this week, or lost in the final to anyone but Cilic, he would overtake Tomas Berdych into eighth place in the Race. And the same was true for Cilic: runner-up place to anyone but Goffin, and he would move above the London cut-off line.
For Goffin, just getting through a tough half of the draw was a job and a half. He got past an unpredictable Marcos Baghdatis in his opener only to face the most dangerous non-seed that it was possible to draw, wild card Juan Martin del Potro.
The good news was that Goffin was enjoying a fine season, reached back-to-back semis at the big Indian Wells-Miami double, made his first Major quarter-final at Roland Garros, had recorded wins over Stan Wawrinka, Berdych and Cilic, plus, it so happened, del Potro just a fortnight back in Shanghai—where he also beat another of his rivals for London, Gael Monfils.
The nimble tennis of the slight Belgian served him well against the bigger, stronger but slower del Potro, but the Basel courts are fast, and the Argentine has twice won the title here.
In the early stages, Goffin not only lived with the pace of the Argentine, he had the first chance to break at 15-40 in the fifth game. However del Potro’s big serves were timely, just as they were in the ninth game when again facing break points. Goffin would live to rue his lost chances, and having aced for a love hold for 5-5, he would then make three unforced errors in a row when serving to take it to a tie-break. Del Potro did not flinch, and grabbed the set, 7-5.
Del Potro opened the second set with a statement service game of pummelled forehands that had the centre court gasping, and Federer’s parents, sitting in the front row, applauding.
The Belgian found it increasingly difficult to get into the points, and the pressure on his serve showed in a long fourth game. Twice Goffin double faulted to bring up break point, and the infamous Argentine forehand struck cross-court and then down the line to break, 3-1. And that was all he required: Del Potro served out the match, 6-3, after an hour and a half.
That set up one of the matches of the tournament—a quarter-final between del Potro and Kei Nishikori—but for Goffin, the door closed a little on his London ambitions. But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the result would buoy up Cilic.
The Croat, in fairness, faced a less fearsome draw, but for him, there were other fish to fry, namely the Davis Cup final after the World Tour Finals: a punishing schedule.
But he was quick to dismiss any physical concerns: “There is enough time even after the Finals, five days, and to have the Davis Cup at home is quite something, so definitely going to be full on for the rest of the year.”
Cilic’s first problem was the in-form Pablo Carreno Busta, at a career-high 32 after winning in Moscow last week. He had stacked up 40 match wins this year—just like Cilic—and also 30 doubles wins, and his athletic, all-court game had driven Fernando Verdasco to distraction in the first round.
But a nervous start from Carreno Busta riddled with errors was off-set by some blistering tennis from Cilic. He dropped just one point on serve and permitted the Spaniard only four points on his serve. The 6-0 white-wash was done in barely 20 minutes.
But Carreno Busta rallied in the second set to cheers as he won his opening service game. Faced with a break point in the sixth game, he pulled off two drop-shot winners, and continued to resist deuces on his serve through the one-hour mark and into a tough hold in the 10th game.
The Spaniard’s all-court quality was now to the fore, and his speed around the baseline kept him in points that he should have lost. He earned two break chances via five deuces, but even after 11 minutes, he could not break down Cilic: It went to a tie-break.
Again, Carreno Busta seemed to have the initiative, 4-0, but the Spaniard would not win another point as the Croat raced to the win, 7-6(4).
Next up for Cilic is Marcel Granollers, but his desire for the title, and for that place at the World Tour Finals, need to feed bigger wins still, possibly top seed Stan Wawrinka, then most likely del Potro or Nishikori in the final.
However, Cilic’s mission is clear: “The Finals are the goal of my season. I set that at the beginning of the season, had a little bit of injury with my knee, didn’t play that well in first part of year, but in second part I was playing really well. Now I’m hoping I can continue with my good form. This is quite an important tournament, and there are a few players battling for those last couple of spots.”
For Goffin’s loss here was enough to propel Monfils into the sixth qualifying place for London. Cilic will be close to joining him if he makes the final. Needless to say, though, he is watching the rankings like a hawk, as well as the results both here and in Vienna. He may have found some solace, too, for the next in line to qualify, Thiem, made an unexpected exit in the second round to Viktor Troicki.
Cilic admitted: “I do [watch the rankings], I do, I’m aware of everything, but that’s not going to make you get to London. I have to play well. I can’t think of other players. I’m obviously looking at their results, how they are playing… but I’m trying take care of my own business.”
ATP Race to London
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Andy Murray
3 Stan Wawrinka
4 Milos Raonic
5 Kei Nishikori
6 Gael Monfils
7 Dominic Thiem: lost in Vienna R2
8 Tomas Berdych: lost in Vienna R1
9 David Goffin: lost in Basel R2
10 Marin Cilic
11 Roberto Bautista Agut: lost in Vienna R1
12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
13 Lucas Pouille: lost in Vienna R1
14 Grigor Dimitrov: lost Basel R1
15 Richard Gasquet: lost Basel R1
16 Pablo Cuevas: lost Vienna R1
17 David Ferrer
18 Ivo Karlovic