Novak Djokovic is two wins away from retaining his no. 1 ranking for at least another two weeks and he’s got a perfect record against BNP Paribas Masters quarterfinal opponent Marin Cilic.
Djokovic vs Cilic BNP Paribas Masters tennis is live from Paris on Friday at 3.30pm local/2.30pm GMT. Watch and bet on tennis live from Paris at bet365 > live streaming > tennis
After a third-round scare, Novak Djokovic aims to maintain his unbeaten record against Marin Cilic – the latest London qualifier – in Friday’s BNP Paribas Masters quarterfinals.
In a sense, Marin Cilic’s work is done in Paris. The tall Croatian came to the French capital fresh from winning his second title of the year at the Swiss Indoors in Basel, knowing he had a chance to secure qualification for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with a good showing at the final Masters 1000 Series event of the year – and that’s exactly what he’s done, clinching the seventh spot at the season-ending championships with Thursday’s 6-3, 7-6(9) victory over David Goffin.
Cilic was 0-3 against Goffin coming into Thursday’s third-round clash with the Belgian, who was also hoping to qualify for the World Tour Finals. But the big-serving Croatian has been putting together a very strong finish to the season and played like he was full of confidence. With runner-up finishes at 250 events in Marseille (to Nick Kyrgios) and Geneva (Stan Wawrinka) and a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon which saw him squander a two-sets lead against Roger Federer the best he had to show for the first half of 2016, Cilic split with coach Goran Ivanisevic, partnered with Jonas Bjorkman, and went on to win the first Masters 1000 Series title of his career in Cincinnati, put Croatia into the Davis Cup final more or less single-handedly, made the Tokyo semifinals and took his second title of the year in Basel – a run of great results which has seen him qualify for the World Tour Finals for the second time, having made his first appearance in 2014, the year he won the US Open. Against Goffin, Cilic dominated the first set and came back from a break down in the second to lead 6-3 in the tie break, but flirted with disaster when he missed a makeable forehand volley on his first match point. Shaken, Cilic would let four more match points slip by – three with forehand errors, one with a backhand mistake – before a framed forehand by Goffin saw the ball fly into the rafters of the AccorHotels Arena.
‘That's what I was playing for,’ Cilic said. ‘I have been in this battle for London for a few years. You can say I'm getting experienced in that, so it's something that is giving me a lot of confidence… [It] was the goal of the season for me, to reach the Tour Finals in London. Obviously the Top 8 is something that all the players in the world are wishing for.
‘It's one of the best tournaments in the world, for sure, to battle it out with best in that kind of a format. It's definitely something special, so it's great for me that I achieved it, especially in this kind of way over the past few weeks. I earned it, and that's, for me, an even bigger plus.’
Marin Cilic (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
It’s fortunate that Cilic has secured qualification by reaching the quarterfinals, because it’s very difficult to envisage him reaching the semifinals in Paris. That would require beating Novak Djokovic, something Cilic has been unable to do in 14 previous encounters.
Djokovic has plenty more to do in Paris – he must reach the final to secure his world no. 1 ranking, and is also trying to defend the title he has won the past three years. On a 17-match winning streak at the BNP Paribas Masters – his last loss in Bercy came to Sam Querrey back in 2012 – Djokovic looked relaxed and in strong form, two things that haven’t often been the case for the somewhat troubled world no. 1, in his opening 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Gilles Muller, but he faced much sterner opposition against Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.
Dimitrov had only beaten Djokovic in one of six previous encounters, but the Bulgarian has shown flickers of returning form recently, especially with a win over Rafael Nadal in Beijing, and he pushed Djokovic hard on Thursday. An early double-fault from Djokovic saw Dimitrov break to take a 2-1 lead and although the Bulgarian was unable to consolidate in a game that lasted nearly 15 minutes, he broke again to lead 3-2 and this time kept the lead to be up 4-2 after 40 minutes.
Dimitrov served out the first set 6-4 with a minimum of fuss but things immediately began to go wrong for him in the second as Djokovic broke to lead 2-0, then held for 3-0 in a 10-minute game. Leading 3-1, Djokovic took a fall and immediately summoned the trainer to inspect his right knee, but held from 15-30 after a medical timeout to lead from 4-1 as a couple of crucial errors from Dimitrov prevented him from heaping the pressure on Djokovic. That was really it for the Bulgarian’s challenge. He double-faulted to lose the second set 2-6, was broken immediately in the third set and Djokovic closed out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win with 17 winners and 29 unforced errors. Dimitrov? 32 and 55.
So what are Cilic’s chances of being able to overturn his 0-14 record vs Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals? Slim. Djokovic pointed out that Cilic likes the ‘very quick courts’ in Paris – and the word from the players does seem to be that the courts are faster this year – but Djokovic has won the last 12 sets he’s played against the Croatian and his defensive solidity is just a nightmare for the powerful but erratic Cilic. If Cilic serves supremely well and Djokovic doesn’t lift his game from the way he played against Dimitrov, it’s possible. But the most likely scenario is that a red-hot Cilic might get close to taking a set, or even do so, before his ratio of winners to unforced errors (if any error against Djokovic can be said to be ‘unforced’) turns against him. Djokovic is just two wins away from protecting his world no. 1 ranking. It seems unlikely he’d falter now.
Djokovic vs Cilic is scheduled on Court Central in Paris on Friday at 3.30pm local/2.30pm GMT