Marin Cilic may have qualified for his first final four appearance at Roland Garros at age 33, but the humble actions of his opponent left an indelible mark on the tournament.
Cilic delivered 33 aces to get to the final four at Roland-Garros for the first time, edging No.7 seed Andrey Rublev 5-7 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-6 (10-2) in a 4- hour, 10-minute test of strength and will.
Amid the emotional tussle, which saw the 2014 US Open champion smash 88 winners, Rublev left the tennis world baffled by his random acts of kindness throughout the match.
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The Russian twice displayed incredible sportsmanship in the fifth set, indicating early in the tiebreaker that one of Cilic’s strokes was indeed in and, earlier at 1-all, volunteering to replay a point after Cilic complained that a shot that was called out had touched a line.
“No! No! No! No! Please!” Cilic said.
“Please! No! No! No! The ball is touching the line. The ball is touching the line! Please!”
Rublev then held up his racquet to concede the point, despite replays showing the ball was out and that the initial umpire’s call was in fact correct.
John McEnroe, on commentary for Eurosport, was left perplexed by the gesture from Rublev.
“It is interesting because Rublev circled a mark that looked to be out, but then he turned around and gave it to Cilic,” McEnroe said.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that, but nicely done!
“He originally circled a mark that presumably showed that it was out! But anyway.”
The crowd showed its appreciation, giving Rublev an ovation while Cilic was full of praise post-match.
“Andrey played incredibly well and it was an incredible fair play performance on the court,” he said.
“A lot of heart.”
Cilic dropped Rublev’s career mark in major quarterfinals to 0-5. That was thanks in part to his overwhelming ability to strike serves and groundstrokes for winners — 88 in all, more than twice as many as Rublev’s total of 35.
“It was hard emotionally, because he played some games very well,” Cilic said. “When you play this long, there’s always be some ups and downs, so I had to keep my focus.”
The Croatian is the fifth active man to complete a full set of at least one semi-final run at all four Slam events, joining Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, each of whom has been ranked No.1 and won multiple majors.
Cilic was the runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon in 2017 and the Australian Open in 2018; the latter had been Cilic’s most recent trip to a Slam semi-final.
Cilic will take on No.8 Casper Ruud for a spot in the final. The other men’s semifinal is 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, who eliminated Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, against No.3 Alexander Zverev.
Either way, Cilic will have a big edge in experience. His opponent will have youth on his side, either way: Ruud is just 23.
No matter. Cilic feels good these days.
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When he had a physical exam at the end of 2021, he said, his doctor told him: “Your body’s like 25.”
Continued Cilic: “Don’t tell my wife I’m saying this, (but) I might be playing another 10 years.”
All kidding aside, he said: “How long? We’ll see. But definitely three, four years, if I can be competitive like this.”
As part of an agreement among the four Grand Slam hosts to standardize one element of the sport, this is the first time Roland-Garros has used a tiebreaker in fifth sets of men’s matches — and third sets of women’s matches.
Cilic ran away with the first-to-10 format against Rublev, collecting the match’s last nine points after trailing 2-1 in the tiebreaker.
The 198cm Cilic has one of the biggest serves on tour, and he delivered them at up to 214km/h, with an average speed of 199km/h.
He came up with three aces in the tiebreaker.
“Almost all the important points he was winning with his serve,” Rublev said, “and was really, really tough to read or to return.
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The highs, lows and controversies of Roland-Garros 2022
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