Wimbledon 2018: Slip-ups by Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka may make life easier for Roger Federer as top half opens up

The string of upsets at Wimbledon continued, this time on the men’s side, as Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka joined the scrapheap on Thursday.

Third seed and last year’s finalist Cilic, one of the favourites going into the tournament, suffered a shock 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-7(3), 5-7 defeat at the hands of Argentine Guido Pella. A little earlier in the evening, Wawrinka, who had raised hopes of a comeback by dismissing Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round, fell 7-6(7), 6-3, 7-6(6) to Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano.

Marin Cilic falls during his second round match against Guido Pella. Reuters

Marin Cilic falls during his second round match against Guido Pella. Reuters

While Wimbledon lost some of its star power, the defeats may have further cleared Roger Federer’s path to the final. Not that the eight-time champion needs any favours from his rivals. But Cilic and Wawrinka were the only two former Grand Slam champions, apart from Federer, in the top half. Their departure guarantees a shake-up in that half of the draw, which, led by Federer, is now a delectable mix of greenhorns (Stafanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Mackenzie Macdonald), ace kings (John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Milos Raonic, Sam Querrey) and journeymen (Fabbiano, Pella, Radu Albot, Adrian Mannarino).

In one of the biggest slip-ups on the slick Wimbledon grass, Cilic went out in the second round after being two sets up. The match had started on Wednesday and the big-hitting Croat looked right at home on the green turf, unfurling his massive wingspan to drive home winners. His 28-year-old opponent after all was playing only his third main draw match at the Major and was in the second round at Wimbledon for the very first time.

The clouds of uncertainty had begun to gather for Cilic after the second rain delay on Wednesday. Play resumed on Court No 1, even though the other courts were deemed far too slippery, with the third set level at 3-3. The Croat struggled to find his footing, even slipped once, literally, at break point down, to eventually lose the rally and the game. Play was called off for the day, but the left-handed Pella had the tiniest foothold.

Cilic’s former coach, Goran Ivanisevic, had once said: “In every game I play there are three players in me that could surface anytime, Good Goran, Bad Goran and Crazy Goran! They can all serve aces.” While Cilic is hardly as mercurial as his fellow Croat, the good Cilic, who had been way too good for Pella on Wednesday, failed to turn up the next day. He still served aces, 27 in total, and hit unreturnable serves to dig himself out of a hole. But an unsure, nervy Cilic couldn’t finish the job he had started so brightly.

“I was just not feeling as comfortable as yesterday with my hitting. I was not as accurate and I was just missing some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back," 2014 US Open champion Cilic later said. "It was not just the pressure. It was me not executing my shots on the court well enough.”

The Argentine, meanwhile, was getting more used to the surface and stage. He dug deep, ran hard and produced some splendid tennis under pressure. Pella quashed a hint of a comeback from Cilic in the fourth set — when he went up 3-1 — by breaking him back in the next game. In a crafty rally on varied pace and spin, Pella chased down a drop shot and scooped it for a forehand winner to go level 3-3. The Argentine struck a forehand pass to go set point up at 6-2 in the tie-breaker, and then another one to bag the set.

Having done all the hard work, Pella refused to give in in the decider. He saved three points from Cilic. And even when the seasoned Cilic saved two break points of his own at 4-5 down, Pella persisted. He got more chances on the Croat’s next service game. Though Cilic saved one more with an ace, Pella kept badgering Cilic’s forehand, usually his stronger wing. Two successive forehand errors from Cilic handed Pella the biggest victory of his 11-year pro career. In all, Cilic hit 37 unforced errors off the forehand in the match that lasted three hours and 13 minutes.

“Today, I started to play more aggressively and fight for every ball and that is why I won,” the 28-year-old Pella said. “Grass isn't my favourite surface but I started to feel more confident and served a lot better.”

The Argentine wasn’t the only one to upstage a former Major champion on the day. Italy’s Fabbiano, who had beaten India’s Yuki Bhambri in the opening round, put the finishing touches on his victory over Wawrinka after being 7-6, 7-6, 5-6 up on Wednesday evening.

Playing only his fifth tour match on grass, the 5’8” Fabbiano slayed three-time Grand Slam champion Wawrinka. While Wawrinka has struggled for top-form since returning from a knee surgery last year and slipped to 224 in the rankings, he showed he still has the game to beat some of the better players.

“I'm really disappointed to lose the match,” said Wawrinka, who has never gone beyond the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. “During the match, I was a (trying to find) my game a little bit. I was not aggressive enough and not moving well enough.”

He had fought back from a set down against sixth seed Dimitrov to score an unlikely victory in the first round. But his comeback was nipped in the bud by a determined Fabbiano, who was completely unfazed by the Swiss’ reputation or repertoire of shots. Wawrinka, for his part, held set points in both the tie-breaks but just could not deliver the knockout blow.


Updated Date: Jul 06, 2018 09:40 AM

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