Expected to come through as the next opponent for the winner of last night's meeting between Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis, the world No 18 Marin Cilic from Croatia managed to make exceptionally hard labour of his third-round match against the American Sam Querrey, ranked 46 places below him.
It took five sets and as many hours before he saw off Querrey's defiant challenge 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-7 17-15. At five hours 31 minutes, it was the second longest match in Wimbledon history.
The Californian Querrey specialises in hanging on for tie-breaks and here he followed up a similarly dogged success in the previous round over the seeded Canadian Milos Raonic by recovering from two sets down, drawing level with the benefit of tie-breaks and then taking the fifth set to 32 games. It was an unremitting baseline contest very much in the style of a modern men's match of tall, strong servers – each of them is 6ft 6in – neither of whom were keen to stray far towards the net.
By a weary fifth set it had become difficult for either man to win points against the serve, but Cilic's stamina stood up well again; he has now won his last four five-setters.
So he was able to repeat last month's victory at Queen's over Querrey after a Court Two crowd that included fellow countryman Goran Ivanesevic saw him lose control of a match he seemed to have in his grasp. He then played an inconsistent third set, losing the tie-break, and was on the back foot for most of the fourth, which finished the same way.
In winning the recent Queen's tournament, Cilic was helped by his opponent in the final David Nalbandian being defaulted after blowing a gasket and drawing blood from a line judge's shin in the process. It meant the Croatian was on a winning streak of seven matches, which he eventually extended here.
Once as high as No 9 in the world, he says he enjoys grass courts because of his height and style of play, which includes a powerful double-handed backhand. But he has won only one of his six meetings with Murray, in straight sets at the US Open three years ago. Their most recent match was at the Paris Open in 2010, which Murray won in three after he had hit the ball away in disgust and narrowly missed a ball boy, thus avoiding the fault for which Tim Henman was once disqualified at Wimbledon. "It will be another difficult match," Cilic said of the next challenge. "It's going to be a little bit different, there will be longer points and rallies, with more running. I have to go into the match with positive thinking. I know how much it means to him but it means a lot to me."
Querrey again demonstrated a capacity to stay in a set and take it as far as a tie-break. He had broken serve in the first game of the match before allowing Cilic back into it and losing the tie-break 7-6. In the second set Cilic improved the percentages on his first serve and took it 6-4 but in the third-set tie-break he fell apart, trailing 4-0 and 5-1 before playing two wild shots that gave Querrey the decider 7-2. The fourth set was similar and breaks, or even break points, were becoming rare as the match reached its climax.
In the fifth there was not a break of service between Cilic drawing level at 6-6 and the denouement. Querrey looked if anything more comfortable but at 15-15, the Croatian set up a break point when Querrey drove long and unsuccessfully challenged, then netted to fall behind. To the 81st game of the match, in which Cilic moved his man all over the court during a long baseline rally to earn a match point, which he claimed when Querrey went long with his return. Even the umpire was weary.Reuse content