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By Chris Oddo | Friday August 10, 2018

Marin Cilic was in commanding form on Friday night, but against Rafael Nadal these days, commanding form might get you in the door but it doesn’t guarantee success.

Nadal answered the bell on Friday in typical fashion, deliberately reversing the momentum of the match and pushing all the right buttons on his way to a satisfying 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over the No.6-seeded Croatian.

Cilic was in the rudest of forms in the opening set, one that saw him crack blistering winner after blistering winner, but gradually Nadal worked his way into the flow of the match, and into the mind of Cilic as he turned the momentum in the second and hung on throughout a few ebbs and flows to claim the final two sets and his 38th victory of 2018 against just three losses.

With the win Nadal qualifies for his 67th career Masters 1000 semifinal and he’ll face Russia’s Karen Khachanov for a spot in the final on Saturday.

“Being in semifinals is great news at the start of the hard court season in a good way,” Nadal told reporters after the match. “And winning three good matches in the first Masters 1000 [is] so important for me. And especially the way that [Cilic] played in that first set was unstoppable, no? So I resisted. I play with the right tactic. I tried to find my solutions, but was so, so difficult.”

Nadal is no stranger to this type of win, and he indeed seemed to relish the opportunity of taking on a player in elevated form on Friday. In defeating Cilic he won for the 82nd time when he has dropped the opening set in a best-of-three set match, and he improves to 6-2 lifetime against Cilic, avenging a heartbreaking loss to Cilic in this year’s Australian Open quarterfinal that saw the Spaniard retire with a hip ailment after two games in the fifth set.

“I never believe on revenge at all,” Nadal said when asked about his emphatic post-match celebration. “No, no. It's not because of Australian Open match, not at all. Was just because have been a very important match for me.”

Tennis Express

It was a fitter Nadal that we saw on Friday, and he needed every bit of his energy to contend with a zoning Cilic that was committed to an all-out attack from first ball to last. There were times when Cilic lost his magic touch, thanks to the indefatigable defenses of Nadal, but Cilic too showed determination in this match.

The World No. 7 broke for 4-5 in the second set and put himself a few service holds from a tiebreaker, but nerves got the best of Cilic as he served for 5-all. He shanked an overhead well long of the baseline to allow Nadal back 40-30 and on the next point he rushed a forehand, sailing it into the tramlines to allow Nadal to deuce.

Two points later—two unforced errors later from Cilic—Nadal had the set.

The third set was also tight, as both players held all the way to 4-all, but again it was Cilic who cracked as Nadal earned triple match point with Cilic serving at 4-5 and converted his third match point to seal the win as a Cilic backhand sailed well wide.

In the end there was very little between Cilic and Nadal on this evening. The Croatian was overpowering at times, and the stat sheets showed that. Cilic’s 38 winners were more than double Nadal’s 16, but the Croatian’s inability to deliver at the most important moments would be his downfall.

That’s never been a problem for Nadal. Like he has done so many times in the past, he rose to the challenge and found a way to outclass his opponent when it mattered most.

The Spaniard will bid for his 49th Masters 1000 final on Saturday—he has not won a Masters title on a hardcourt since he won the Rogers Cup and the Western and Southern Open back-to-back in 2013.


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