Maharashtra Open: Impeccable Marin Cilic storms into semis; Yuki Bhambri-Divij Sharan last Indians standing

Pune: Top seed Marin Cilic put up an exquisite display on Thursday at the Tata Maharashtra Open as he sailed into his first semi-final of 2018 with a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 victory over eighth-seeded Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in 64 minutes.

The World No 6 started the match with a love-hold, which included two aces — an ominous sign for his opponent. Two-time doubles Grand Slam champion Herbert was playing against Cilic for the first time in his career and he was on the receiving end of a schooling from the Croatian.

Serving at 2-3, Herbert missed a few first serves to fall behind 0-40. Cilic pounced on this opportunity and drilled a forehand winner past a hapless Herbert to break for the first time in the match.

Marin Cilic serves during his quarter-final match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Maharashtra Open

Marin Cilic serves during his quarter-final match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Image courtesy: Maharashtra Open

The one break of serve was enough for Cilic to clinch the opening set as he was almost untouchable on his own serve. Cilic ended the match with seven aces, winning 23 out of his 24 first-serve points and never facing a break point.

“I was serving really well and that gave me a lot of free points. I was able to hit freely off the back of the court. Overall, I felt in control straightaway when I broke him, held serve for 5-2 and then finished the set. It was really good tennis throughout both sets,” Cilic said in the press conference after the match.

The top seed looked in great touch and only stepped things up a notch in the second set. Cilic barely put a foot wrong and had everything going his way — he made outrageous service return winners at full stretch, covered the net with beautifully-struck volleys, painted the lines with his forehand and consistently served over the 200 kmph mark.

Herbert’s serve, which had been getting him out of trouble all week, deserted him in the second set as he hit a couple of untimely double faults and was broken in the very first game. The Frenchman could make no inroads on Cilic’s serve and his fate was sealed when he was broken for a second time in the seventh game.

Cilic ended the quarter-final as he started it — with an ace. Cilic, who is aiming for his third title on Indian soil, faces another Frenchman in his next match, Gilles Simon.

Simon, who had a slump in 2017 and dropped to 81 in the world rankings, hasn’t dropped a set yet at the Maharashtra Open. Simon had knocked out the defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut in his previous round and had little trouble beating qualifier Ricardo Ojeda Lara of Spain 6-2, 6-3.

The Frenchman has a winning 5-1 record against Cilic and won their last encounter in 2016 on the hardcourts of Miami.

Talking about his semi-final opponent, Cilic said: “I have played Gilles many times, and he has a good record against me. We have faced each other quite often at Grand Slams and we have always had tough battles, be it three-setters or five-setters.

“He has got a unique style of play, he is very consistent from the back of the court, runs well, (and is) very economic with his movement. For me, it's important to play aggressive and I am hoping I can deliver even better tennis.”

Second seed Kevin Anderson also advanced but chose to take the scenic route to the semi-finals. Playing in only his second match in India, the US Open finalist squandered a 5-3 lead against Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin in the first set and then committed a slew of unforced errors in the tie-break to allow Kukushkin to win the opener 7-6(3) in just over an hour.

Anderson’s backhand was all over the place in the match but his excellent serve helped him stay in the match till he found some consistency on his groundstrokes. In the second set, the South African broke for a 4-3 lead after a long game that went to three deuces. He needed four set points on his own serve to eventually close out the set 6-4.

It was only in the third set that Anderson found some rhythm and started playing with more freedom. He committed only eight unforced errors in the decider — as compared to the 30 and 16 in the first two sets respectively — and emerged as the winner after two hours and 33 minutes on Centre Court. The World No 14 fired 24 aces to Kukushkin’s four.

After the match, Anderson admitted that he played poorly in the first set, especially in the tie-break. “It was not a good tie-breaker for me. After being up 5-3, and having a set point at 5-4, I wasn’t happy with how I played in the tie-break. I needed to be much more assertive, feel more confidence in the game but there were too many unforced errors, I didn’t play the right shots.

“But I was able to stay competitive in the second set, and found more rhythm and confidence in sets two and three. I relied a little more on my first serve in the third set. He was standing a little further back, which allowed me to serve-and-volley, which I thought I executed well,” Anderson told reporters.

In the semis, Anderson will play against fourth seed Benoit Paire for the first time in his career. Paire beat fifth-seeded Dutchman Robin Haase 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 but was hampered by blisters on his hands and a lingering foot injury in his win. The Frenchman said he should recover in time for the last-four match on Friday but his injury concerns make Anderson the overwhelming favourite.

In the doubles, defending champions Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan were ousted by the French duo of Herbert and Simon. The Indians were outclassed and outplayed with Herbert and Simon winning 6-3, 7-5 in an hour and 10 minutes.

French duo of Pierrer-Hugues Herbert and Gilles Simon knocked out defending champions Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. Maharashtra Open

French duo of Pierrer-Hugues Herbert and Gilles Simon knocked out defending champions Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. Image courtesy: Maharashtra Open

However, Yuki Bhambri and Divij Sharan kept Indian hopes alive at the Maharashtra Open by defeating top seeds Robert Lindstedt and Franco Skugor 7-5, 2-6, 10-6 in their quarter-finals.

Sharan, who teamed up last minute on site with Bhambri after his regular partner Scott Lipsky was not fully fit, had reached the finals of this ATP 250 event in Chennai last year with Purav Raja.

The Indian pair faces Herbert and Simon in the semi-final on Friday and Bhambri will be hoping to avenge his singles loss to Herbert earlier this week.

Published Date: Jan 05, 2018 14:13 PM | Updated Date: Jan 05, 2018 14:13 PM

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