Marin Cilic faced a difficult task matching Kei Nishikori’s heroics but the 25-year-old from Croatia did just that in the second of the US Open semi-finals here. After Nishikori’s stunning victory over Novak Djokovic earlier in the day, Cilic brushed aside the challenge of Roger Federer, beating the 17-times Grand Slam champion 6-3 6-4 6-4 in just an hour and 45 minutes.
The two results mean that Monday’s final will be the first in a Grand Slam tournament for nine years without Federer, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. The last final not to feature any of those three players was the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt.
Cilic, who spent four months out of the game last year after failing a drugs test, has returned a stronger player, both mentally and physically. He reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open four years ago but appeared to have reached a plateau in his career until he started playing opponents off the court this year with a bolder and more attacking game.
Goran Ivanisevic, Cilic’s coach, has clearly had a major impact on his fellow countryman. Cilic now takes full advantage of his 6ft 6in frame to hit some massive serves, while he has also added power to his ground strokes. He hit 43 winners to Federer’s 28 and 13 aces to Federer’s 12.
Cilic, who beat Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, had won only two sets in losing all five of his previous meetings with Federer but never looked in awe of the former world No 1.
“It was an amazing day for me,” he said afterwards. “I feel amazing. I never dreamed of being able to play like this. I think today was the best performance ever in my career.”
Looking ahead to the final against Nishikori, he added: “I think it’s going to be a sensational day for both of us. I’m extremely happy to be in the final for the first time in my career. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
The start of the second semi-final was delayed by heavy rain, which started falling not long after Nishikori and Djokovic had left Arthur Ashe Stadium. When they got down to business Cilic wasted no time stamping his authority on the match.
Cilic made his first break of serve in the fourth game. Federer went 40-0 up, but Cilic went for broke with some huge returns and won the next five points to give an early indication of his intentions. The world No 16 sealed the first set in just 26 minutes, completing the job with an ace.
The first game of the second set saw Cilic back on the attack as Federer dropped his serve again when he put a backhand in the net after a typically bold return. Cilic took the set in similar fashion to the first, an ace putting him two sets to love up in just 66 minutes.
Federer had come back from two sets down to beat Gael Monfils in the quarter-finals and briefly raised hopes among his supporters of a similar comeback when he broke serve in the second game of the third set. However Cilic broke back immediately and again when Federer served at 3-3.
The end was swift. Cilic created three match points with three successive aces and needed only one of them, sealing victory with a backhand winner down the line. It had been quite an afternoon.Reuse content