It’s one of the marquee quarterfinal match-ups in Rotterdam on Friday as top seed Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga clash for a spot in the semifinals. This will be the second time they have met in Rotterdam with Cilic winning 6-4, 6-4 back in 2014.
(1) Marin Cilic vs (6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Cilic’s two wins this week have both come in three sets. On Thursday, he downed Borna Coric 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Outside of the faulty second set, his serve was lethal with the Croat winning 36 of 43 points on serve in the two winning sets. By contrast, he won just 11 of 21 points in that second set while facing all four break points against his serve. The top seed was broken twice in that set. It was a bit tidier performance than his opener against Benoit Paire, where he had to save nine of ten break chances. That includes seven of seven in the final set.
Tsonga showed improvement after playing the guessing game in his opener against little-known Greek wild card Stefanos Tsitsipas. Tsonga came through 6-4, 7-6 (2), but admitted that the youngster had him guessing all match. The Frenchman said not knowing much about the 18-year-old Greek made it difficult to figure out his game plan. He saw no such trouble against a more familiar foe in Gilles Muller on Wednesday. He whipped Muller 6-4, 6-2 and never faced a break point. He looked much steadier and obviously more comfortable over all.
History Sides With Cilic
Five of the previous six encounters have gone the way of Marin Cilic. Their most recent was also their most competitive. At the 2015 U.S. Open, Cilic nearly blew a two sets to love lead, before re-rallying to down Tsonga in five sets in the quarterfinals 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4. Cilic won their lone clash indoors at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in 2014 by a score of 6-4, 6-4. The story line in most of their meetings have been about the same; Cilic just a shade better on serve and better at killing off break chances.
In these indoor conditions, power plays well and that of course lends itself well to both players. After a poor start to 2017, Cilic has claimed his first back-to-back wins and now gets a familiar match-up for a shot at the semifinals. There’s no secret to the strategy for both here; serve big and hit their forehands bigger. This one should see plenty of baseline exchanges. The forehand to forehand exchanges should be marvelous. The difference in this match could come off the backhand. Tsonga still has the ability to hit clean winners off that wing, but his consistency level there has been hot and cold.
Cilic’s two hander has been a bit more consistent and still packs a good punch. Cilic doesn’t have a big windup on that side and his ability to flick the ball quickly off the backhand side could give him the edge in those rallies. Both move well for bigger guys although a healthy Tsonga should always be better in that category. As such, Tsonga might do well here to try and move Cilic around and test his ability or willingness to come to the net. Those type of points should favor JWT or at least make Cilic earn each point he gets in those situations.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
The head-to-head obviously tells a tale of Cilic feeling very good about this match-up. Cilic has been a bit up and down this season though, so a consistent effort from JWT will put him under pressure to perform at a peak level. A quick start would be a big boost for the Frenchman here and that means serving at a high level from the opening ball. I think if Tsonga can do that and avoid having to do too much work with his backhand that he can reverse the trend of Cilic winning in this series.
Tsonga wins in three sets