2017 AEGON Championships Final Preview: Marin Cilic vs Feliciano Lopez

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The title at Queen’s Club comes down to fourth seed Marin Cilic and unseeded Feliciano Lopez. Cilic won the title in London back in 2012 and made the final the following year. Lopez is back in the AEGON Championships final for the first time since 2014. He’s seeking his first title of 2017, while Cilic is looking for number two.

(4) Marin Cilic vs Feliciano Lopez

If there was a top four seed that advanced to a final with less fanfare than Marin Cilic, let me know. The big serving Croat was kind of lost in the shuffle with Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic ahead of him. All Cilic has done this week is dominate on serve. His semifinal against Gilles Muller featured the first break chances against his serve all week. He dished out two and was able to save one in the 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win. The fourth seed was crushing it with his first serve taking 91 percent of the points as he racked up 20 aces. For the week, Cilic;s lowest win rate on first serve was 85 percent against Donald Young in the quarterfinals. Overall, he has won 121 of the 131 points played off his first serve. Those are truly amazing numbers and leaves little doubt as to how he’s worked his way into this final.

As for Lopez, he too went the distance in the semifinals. After a superb opening set, the Spaniard’s level dropped a bit as Dimitrov rallied back to even the match. The final set was all Lopez though as he broke Dimitrov twice late and forced ten break chances in the set. The lefty secured the win 7-5, 3-6, 6-2. Lopez again was mostly untouchable on serve, winning 87 percent of his first serves and 55 percent of his second serves. He did not however get as many freebies in this one with only four aces. The Spaniard was averaging just over 15 aces per match through the first three rounds.

Croatian Domination

This head-to-head series has been one-sided with Cilic winning the last four in a row and taking five of seven overall. The last meeting came at the French Open with Cilic cruising to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 win. They’ve met twice on grass with both meetings coming at Queen’s Club. Last year, Cilic survived 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. In 2013, the Croat also came out on top via a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 scoreline. Included in the four match win streak is a straight sets win for Cilic in Cincinnati in 2014.

The formula for his wins has been pretty simple. He’s served just a bit better than Lopez in the majority of the matches outside of the 2013 Queen’s Club performance. They were about dead even in that one with Lopez actually tallying two more points overall. The killer that day was double faults with the Spaniard committing seven. Despite the losses, Lopez should have some confidence as he has been able to find a way to break Cilic multiple times in most of those matches.

Strategy Session

Broken record time; this match for both will be serve centric. It’s grass and with guys who can wallop the ball like Cilic and Lopez, we know that serve is going to be an essential and large part of the winning formula. Cilic as laid out earlier has been almost untouchable with his first serve this week. It’s going to take something special from Lopez on return to be able to crack Cilic on Sunday. I think a key factor for the Spaniard is going to be patience on return. There are likely going to be plenty of times where he’s barely going to get the racquet on the ball or Cilic is going to easily ace him. He has to be mentally tough in knowing that he’s going to have to move onto the next point when that happens and wait for his opportunity.

With his own serve, Lopez is going to have to bring consistency from the first ball to the last. I think he’s done that for the most part this week, but there was a bit more of a noticeable dip against Dimitrov in the second set on Saturday. He can’t afford that against Cilic if Cilic is continuing to obliterate the ball on his first serve. If Lopez matches Cilic, then a big deciding factor in this match could be tiebreaks. Cilic has yet to play one this week and lost all three he played last week at the Ricoh Open. Lopez has played four tiebreaks this week, winning three of them. On grass this season, he is 4-4 in breakers. A bit surprisingly, these two have played just four tiebreaks out of the 19 sets they have played against each other. They split those 2-2.

When serves aren’t making ground rallies irrelevant, you’ll see Cilic employing a bit more aggressive approach at coming to the net. He’s made a point to do that a bit more on grass and it’s working so far. Lopez of course has long been able to do that as one of the better volleyers thanks to his experienced doubles play. That will make this match-up a bit different than last year’s when Cilic rarely came to net. Lopez’s reaction to those moments will be big in this one as he’ll have to be ready for something other than strict baseline tennis from the Croat.

Off the ground, there is no doubt the forehands from both players are at the top of their arsenals. Cilic has a big wind-up on his forehand, but it doesn’t deter him from success due to great timing off that wing. The wind-up of course only adds a ton of power to that shot. His backhand, although not talked about as much, is a solid shot. The two handed approach allows Cilic to again ramp up the power. Lopez brings much the same off the forehand side with a big whipping shot that packs a ton of power. Off the backhand side though, he often opts for using a one handed slice to change up court positioning. It’s an effective weapon when he hits it with accuracy.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Cilic has had Lopez’s number lately and has been superb this week in London. I think it will take something special from Lopez on serve and in return to score the upset. The Spaniard has the goods to take a set off of Cilic as he’s shown before, but I think the end result is another win for the Croat.

Prediction: Cilic wins in three sets

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