Cilic delivers a French Open surprise, beating Medvedev
By Christopher Clarey
Two days after being encouraged by his clay-court game — and with good reason — Daniil Medvedev, the world’s No. 2 men’s singles player, was bounced out of the French Open on Monday in just 1 hour, 45 minutes.
There were some boos as Medvedev, his bag slung over his shoulder, trudged off the red clay of the Philippe Chatrier Court in Paris after his 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 defeat by 20th-seeded Marin Cilic in the fourth round.
The discontent was understandable. Paying more than 100 euros (about $107) — or much more — for a night-session ticket and being left with a blowout will generate some grumbles.
But the lopsided score and brisk pace were also due to Cilic’s sustained brilliance. Although clay is not traditionally his best surface, he could have fooled Medvedev as he served and attacked with precise power and near-relentless efficiency.
Cilic won 90% of his first-serve points, and Medvedev, an excellent returner, could never muster a break point. Despite being nicknamed The Wall, Medvedev kept crumbling, first in rallies of all lengths, particularly the midlength ones.
Cilic won 26 of the 36 exchanges that lasted between five and eight strokes — a huge margin against a baseliner of Medvedev’s abilities. He also broke Medvedev’s big serve five times under the bright lights, sometimes leaving Medvedev flat-footed on the baseline as he crushed a return winner.
It was, to sum it up, one tall former U.S. Open champion in a state of grace and another in a state of disarray.
“An absolutely fantastic match from the first point to the last,” Cilic said in his rumbling baritone voice. “One of the best matches of my career from start to finish.”
That is quite a comment from a player such as Cilic, a 33-year-old Croatian who has played nearly 900 singles matches on tour and who won the 2014 U.S. Open and has reached the finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
His run in New York City in 2014 was proof of what he could do when his big game started clicking. After prevailing in a five-set match against Gilles Simon in the fourth round, Cilic switched gears and defeated Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori without losing a set.
Guess whom Cilic beat in the third round at Roland Garros on Saturday? Simon, in his final match at the French Open, by the score of 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.
Shortly after Monday’s rout of Medvedev, Simon tweeted: “I thought that he wasn’t missing much,” referring to Cilic’s level in their match.
Does 2014 come into Cilic’s mind at a time like this?
“Every single day. Every single day,” Cilic said. “It’s so difficult to go back in the past, how I felt mentally, how I felt on the court. You just feel different, and it’s just staying in the moment. I’m doing good things on the court, and good things in the training off the court with my team, so it’s just trusting that and having good confidence. That’s most important.”
Cilic will face Andrey Rublev, Russia’s second-ranked player, in the quarterfinals today (8:30 a.m. ET, Tennis Channel). Rublev, typically more comfortable on clay than Medvedev, advanced when Jannik Sinner, his Italian opponent, retired early in the third set Monday with a left knee injury he sustained when pushing off with his left leg to serve.
Sinner, limping and with tape below his knee, retired with Rublev leading, 1-6, 6-4, 2-0, and covered his face as he walked into the tunnel leading to the locker room.
The quarterfinal lineup is now set, and there is only one unseeded player remaining: the 19-year-old Holger Rune, who upset Stefanos Tsitsipas, the No. 4 seed, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
After a first week short on surprises in the men’s singles draw, Monday changed the tone, and Rune, of Denmark, will now face another Nordic player: Casper Ruud, a Norwegian who is seeded eighth (today at 2:45 p.m. ET, Tennis Channel).
But although Ruud broke into the Top 10 last year, winning five titles, this will be the first Grand Slam quarterfinal for both Ruud and Rune, a matchup which, it must be said, has quite a ring to it.
“To make my first quarterfinal here in Roland Garros means a lot,” said Ruud, whose father and coach, Christian, also played in the French Open. “It’s the first Grand Slam that I visited as a kid. It’s nice to get one of my best results of my career so far here.”
Medvedev could not win a match in his first four appearances at the French Open and made light of the situation before last year’s tournament, saying that his goal was to win one round.
He managed to win four on his way to the quarterfinals then but fell just short of matching that performance this year.
Cilic has equaled his best result at Roland Garros with his run to the final eight and may not be done yet if he can continue to hit his serves and groundstrokes the way he did under the lights.
Despite struggling for much of the past three seasons, he is, at 33, back to feeling good about his game after shuffling his support team. He spoke Monday night about playing on for several more years.
“Absolutely, I’m feeling young,” Cilic said. “My doctor said I’m like 25 in my body, so maybe another 12 years.”
With that and a smile, Cilic took his leave.