After his shock win over Novak Djokovic, will Marin Cilic suffer a letdown – and his first ever defeat – against John Isner in the BNP Paribas Masters semifinals?
Cilic vs Isner BNP Paribas Masters tennis is live from Paris on Saturday at 2pm local/1pm GMT. Watch and bet on tennis live from Paris at bet365 > live streaming > tennis
Marin Cilic takes on John Isner for a place in the final of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris on Saturday.
The word from the players over the past week has been that the courts at the (renamed) AccorHotels Arena are substantially quicker this year, and while relying on players’ subjective assessments of surfaces is a notoriously tricky business, it’s fun to connect that idea to some of the more unpredictable and exciting results we have seen at the final Masters 1000 Series event of the year – and to the presence in the semifinals of Cilic and Isner, not necessarily the players most would have picked.
Whether it’s the courts or not, Marin Cilic is certainly having himself a hell of a week. A mediocre first half of the season, capped with a quarterfinal defeat to Roger Federer at Wimbledon having led by two sets, led to Cilic splitting with former coach Goran Ivanisevic and seemed to light a fire under the 2014 US Open champion. No sooner had Cilic announced that he was going to be working with Jonas Bjorkman than he abruptly ended his rather embarrassing record of never even having reached a Masters 1000 Series semifinal by claiming the Cincinnati Masters title, going on to make the semifinals in Tokyo and win the Swiss Indoors Basel last week, putting himself in position to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in Paris. Cilic did just that when he beat David Goffin, a fellow London hopeful who had a perfect 3-0 record against him, with a generally fine performance in the third round on Thursday and, with nothing really to lose, could swing freely in his quarterfinal against Novak Djokovic on Friday – a match nobody expected him to win, given his 0-14 record against Djokovic, who had won the last 12 sets they had played against each other.
Swing freely is precisely what Cilic did, and with devastating results. Djokovic’s first serve had looked frail in his three-set battle against Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday and Cilic broke for the first time to lead 2-0 in the first set. When he was promptly broken back, however, it looked as if Djokovic was going to inexorably tighten the screw on Cilic as he had done so many times before. Instead, Cilic continued hitting out, forcing Djokovic on to the back foot and broke again to lead 6-4.
Djokovic saved break point for 1-1 in the second set and then was the first to break after a calamitous game from Cilic at 4-4. But he threw in a terrible game of his own and was broken back to love. He saved two match points at 5-6, but was unable to do much to stop Cilic dominating the tie break and the Croatian recorded a shock 6-4, 7-6(2) victory.
‘He definitely played better today, and he deserved to win... I wasn't on the level that I could have been on,’ Djokovic said. ‘I was also ... in a good position to take the match into the third set, and then two double faults. Just in important moments I wasn't able to deliver.’
John Isner (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Djokovic’s defeat means, of course, that Andy Murray has a chance to become world no. 1 on Monday by reaching the final in Paris (he has already made it to the semifinals at the time of writing). But it also means that Cilic has a chance to really boost his confidence ahead of the World Tour Finals – or that Isner has the opportunity to end his season on a positive note.
Isner reached the semifinals in Paris – the first time he has made a Masters 1000 Series semifinal outside of the USA since his last Paris semifinal appearance in 2011 – by defeating fellow American Jack Sock in three sets in Thursday’s first quarterfinal. Isner, who hadn’t lost serve all week in Paris, led by a set and a break before a foot-fault call saw him drop serve – and explode in fury – for 4-4. Sock broke again to level up at one set apiece but Isner rebounded strongly in the third set to close out a 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-4 victory.
‘I was fortunate to start off very well in the third set, put that second set behind me,’ Isner said. ‘Very tough match. Certainly could have gone either way. I thought I played very well. I'm happy to move on.’
It hasn’t exactly been a dream year for Isner. His best result coming into Paris was a runner-up finish in Atlanta and his decision to sit out the Olympics didn’t precisely pay off with any sparkling results in August and September (he lost in the second round of the US Open to Ryan Harrison). Nevertheless, reaching a third Masters 1000 Series final in Paris would be a huge result for the American to end his season on.
‘Up to this point I have been very disappointed with how I have played this year,’ Isner said. ‘But I think I have turned a corner. I have a very good team on my side. I am relaxed, but I also know going into this event I have played well here before quite a lot of times. I made the quarterfinals last year and made the semifinals [in 2011].’
Cilic has a perfect 6-0 record against Isner, beating him most recently in straight sets at Davis Cup. The closest Isner has come in the past to a win over the Croatian was their Wimbledon 2015 clash which ended 12-10 in the fifth (they also went to 9-7 in the fifth at the Australian Open in 2011). Still, Cilic hasn’t always done the best job of backing up big wins in the past and may encounter a bit of a letdown after his dramatic Djokovic win, so don’t count Isner out as a very surprising BNP Paribas Masters finalist.
Cilic vs Isner is scheduled on Court Central in Paris on Saturday at 2pm local/1pm GMT