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Defending champ Cilic still on course

By Richard Osborn
Sunday, September 06, 2015

WHAT HAPPENED: Defending US Open champ Marin Cilic pushed his winning streak to 11 straight matches on the hard courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sunday with a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 triumph over No. 27 seed Jeremy Chardy of France.

These were uncharted waters for Chardy, who at 28 was appearing in the round of 16 here for the first time in his decade-long pro career. Cilic broke the Montreal semifinalist at 3-2 to separate himself in the first set. But with his opponent serving at 2-2, 40-15 in the second, the Croat turned his ankle while chasing down a ball along the baseline and was left grimacing. The pain seemed to linger with the 26-year-old, who was subsequently broken in his next service game and went on to drop the set.

If Cilic was still hurting, it didn’t show in the third set, where four aces would give him the tiebreak and a two-sets-to-one lead.

“The key today was finding my rhythm on the serve, especially in the third set,” said Cilic, who would finish with 23 aces, nine of which came in the third set alone. “My ankle was causing me a little bit of trouble in the second set. First couple of games in the third wasn’t easy. I was conscious of it.” 

Chardy, one of a US Open-best four Frenchmen to reach the fourth round, smacked 35 winners and 11 aces, but it wasn’t enough to work his way back into the match in the fourth set against his No. 9-ranked foe. Chardy is now 1-9 against Top 10 competition on the year. Cilic totaled 52 winners to 23 unforced errors.

WHAT IT MEANS: During Cilic’s run to the 2014 US Open title, broadcaster Mary Carillo noted that the Croat’s retooled serve was looking “more Goranic” than ever, a tongue-in-cheek reference to his coach, power server and 2001 Wimbledon champ Goran Ivanisevic. It was high praise for the Balkan baseliner’s serve, a stroke that set him apart from Japan’s Kei Nishikori in last year’s title match. But Cilic missed three months at the start of 2015 due to a sore shoulder, and despite a relatively high ace count hasn’t necessarily been winning matches with his weapon of choice thus far in New York. He won 84 percent of his first-serve points on Day 7 at the US Open (57 of 68), but landed just 58 percent of those first serves (68 of 117). It remains a work-in-progress for a man who has designs on a return trip to next week’s final.

THE QUESTION: In 2010, Marin Cilic became the fourth Croat to crack the Top 10. Can you name the other three?