Juan Martin Del Potro looks to continue his superiority over Marin Cilic as the two clash for a spot in the Swiss Indoors Basel final. Del Potro has won six straight over Cilic and nine of eleven overall in the series.
(2) Marin Cilic vs (4) Juan Martin Del Potro
Cilic was forced to work hard by qualifier Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals as the defending champion escaped with a 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory. Cilic went up two breaks in the third for a 4-1 lead before Fucsovics broke back twice to even the set at 5-5. Fucsovics ran out of gas in the tiebreak, losing the first five points as the second seed took grip of the breaker and held on for the win. Cilic’s second serve was a huge detriment to his game after the opening set, where he won 69 percent of those points. He won a paltry 26 percent of his second serve points in set two and then just 42 percent in set three. He wobbled in general on serve after the opening set, broken five times on nine chances over the final two sets.
Del Potro also went the distance as he dispatched sixth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. DelPo also didn’t show the best of serves for the day, taking just 64 percent of his first serve points and 57 percent off his second serve. Despite the lower win rate on first serve, the Argentine was broken just three times on five chances. DelPo took advantage of a weak second serve from RBA, taking 59 percent of the points. He would break the Spaniard four times on seven chances.
It seemed fairly apparent that Del Potro was feeling the effects of two long weeks after taking the Stockholm title last week. Following the match, he said “I survived, I’m still standing.” Del Potro would say that he’s been having some problems with his body due to the number of matches played and that certainly is something to think about heading into Saturday’s semifinal.
DelPo Domination, Grain of Salt Version
While Del Potro owns the shiny 9-2 mark against Cilic, they have played just once since 2013. That meeting came last year during the Davis Cup final. DelPo won an absolute war in five sets 6-7 (4), 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. Prior to that clash, they had not played since Del Potro beat Cilic in straights at the Paris Masters at the end of the 2013 season. Their head-to-head series dates back to the 2009 Australian Open, where DelPo beat Cilic in four sets. While the numbers look to heavily favor Del Potro, the lack of match play in recent years suggests that Cilic has a very good shot in this one. You can probably bet that the Croat will be keen on getting revenge for blowing that two sets to love lead last Fall. That came in the fourth rubber of the Davis Cup final with Croatia ahead 2-1. One set would have given Cilic and his country the title.
This time around, Del Potro is in fine form with seven straight wins and victories in 11 of his last 12 matches overall. Cilic has been solid as well with a 9-2 record since the U.S. Open. What’s not to like about Del Potro is all that match play in the last week and his admission that his body is most definitely feeling the effects. What’s to like for Del Potro is that Cilic himself did not look great against Fucsovics. So, it’s not as if Cilic can just show up and expect to win this one due to fatigue from his opponent. That leaves Saturday’s tilt as a fascinating one potentially.
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Cilic: Despite his woes against Fucsovics on Friday, the Croat generally has been in ryhthm this week and rolling on serve. Borna Coric had trouble even touching the serve for most of their second round match with Cilic winning 93 percent of his first serve and 73 percent off his second. Those numbers fell to 75 and 44 against Fucsovics in the quarters. The five breaks of serve against him were the most he has suffered since losing in the semis in Tokyo to Adrian Mannarino. The Frenchman busted his serve six times and bageled the Croat in the final set.
There is no secret to the Cilic serve. It’s raw power and rhythm. When it is on, he’s nearly impossible to break. A big key is getting his first serve in consistently. As Fucsovics showed, when you can see more second serves – Cilic becomes vulnerable.
Del Potro: Fatigue certainly looked to be a big part of his lower numbers against Bautista Agut. DelPo had won 86 percent of his first serve points before the quarters, where he saw just a 64 percent win rate against RBA. The Argentine had been broken just once on five chances prior to his last match, where RBA broke him three times on five chances. Much like Cilic, Del Potro’s service struggles come when he cannot find the measure on his first serve.
He winds up putting more pressure on his second serve and becomes inconsistent. With the mind already set on fatigue from his comments, this is going to be an area to monitor early in this match. If DelPo is giving into the fatigue, the legs will go and the power on his serve will be greatly diminished. That will give a good returner like Cilic a golden opportunity on return.
Cilic: His return doesn’t get much love, but it rates in the Top 20 among the percentage of points won off his opponents’ first and second serves. Cilic is at his best when he is aggressive on return, punishing the ball and pushing his opponents back with solid depth on that first ball. That gives him the option on the next ball to either be even more aggressive or start working his opponent from the baseline in a comfortable position. Look for him to be more aggressive on Del Potro’s second serve of course, but he shouldn’t be afraid to grip it and rip it off the Argentine’s first either. As for defense in rallies, Cilic moves fairly well and has become a bit more competent at the net in the last year plus. He still doesn’t look to head to net all that often, but has the confidence now that he can get the job done.
Del Potro: The fourth seed will look to punish the second serve of Cilic if he gets enough looks. For the season, he’s winning right at 49 percent off his opponents’ second serves. That’s a shade below Cilic at 51 percent, but still a solid number. If Cilic struggles like he did against Fucsovics, DelPo needs to jump on those second serves. The forehand return is obviously the biggest weapon, so Cilic will need to vary his deliveries and try to find the backhand a bit more often. Off the ground, Del Potro wants to get himself into stationary positions where he can wallop the forehand or backhand as often as possible. He’s employed the slice off the backhand more as a defensive mechanism this year in order to get around to the forehand on his next shot. He should not be shy about using that strategy against Cilic.
Cilic: The forehand is the weapon of choice, but the double hander off the backhand side could be a difference maker on Saturday. He brings power and the ability to nail winners off that wing. The defending champ will stay mainly along the baseline, but has the edge for me in being able to move to net. With a potentially physically compromised opponent, Cilic should definitely pick some spots to force DelPo forward. Match point against Fucsovics showed his ability in this area.
Del Potro. Much like Cilic, the forehand is the unstoppable force on most nights. Unlike Cilic, Del Potro’s backhand can be a bit of an issue still. He’s incorporated the slice backhand to enable himself to get back around to more forehands. That will be a big part of what he can or cannot do against Cilic. If he is unable to use the slice effectively, he may go to more of the double handed look. It’s improved as the year has gone on, but I think Cilic has the edge in the backhand battle in this one.
Cilic: The “other” stuff that can effect a match, mainly what’s between the ears. Going into this match, Cilic does need to put the Davis Cup final behind him. It would be hard for him not to think about that, but it also could give him confidence knowing that he only needs two sets against Del Potro on Saturday. He got that in the DC final.
Del Potro: The fatigue angle is obviously something I’ve beaten to death, but it’s an issue. I thought coming into this week that DelPo was a candidate to lose earlier than this round because of that possibility. He’s done well to get to this point and certainly is one of the sport’s best gladiators. He’ll fight as long as he has breath in his body, but will his body allow him to fight for long? That is the question
The Pig’s Bottom Line
It’s not an ideal set-up for either guy with both coming off some problems in their last match. I think there is less concern for Cilic though from a physical standpoint than there is for Del Potro. On even ground, this is a 50-50 match despite the past wins for Del Potro because many of them came prior to his slew of injury issues. In this spot, I think Cilic has a chance to end the losing streak if he comes out firing on serve. I think that is a key to put pressure on Del Potro to match. If he can make Del Potro work in his service games and move him around on court, all the better for the second seed. DelPo is never without a chance to win, but I think he’ll need a poor effort from Cilic.
Prediction: Cilic wins in three sets