Cilic stops Rublev in five-set thriller

Croatian denies seventh seed to reach first Roland-Garros semi-final

Marin Cilic, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Marin Cilic has joined an esteemed group after sealing his first Roland-Garros semi-final in a sapping five-set defeat of seventh seed Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.

The Croatian’s 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(10/2) victory, which started in daylight and finished under lights, made him just the fifth active men’s player to reach the last four at all four Grand Slams.

Before this week, the 2014 US Open champion had lost all 10 showdowns with top-10 opponents at Roland-Garros, but after backing up his straight-sets routing of second seed Daniil Medvedev he now stood on the verge of his fourth major final.

Cilic deemed his upset of Medvedev in the quarter-finals as one of the best matches of his career from start to finish.

If that was one of his best, his four-hour, 10-minute triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Wednesday was surely one of his gutsiest.

This was his first major quarter-final in four years, but until he had thwarted Medvedev, there was little to suggest the Croatian was about to embark on another deep run in Paris after notching a 4-4 record on clay leading in.

Rublev had denied Novak Djokovic to win the Serbian’s home tournament in Belgrade, but had not won a set in any of his four previous visits to a Grand Slam quarter-final.

The 24-year-old had done it the hard way just to reach this stage.

He dropped a set in each of his four prior matches, including the fourth round in which he benefitted from the retirement of Jannik Sinner to a knee injury.

Story of the match

Rublev had claimed four of the pair’s six encounters but his 33-year-old opponent showed some of his brilliant hard-court best in a return to form at Melbourne Park when he rolled Rublev under lights in the third round in January.

Rublev could not wait to sink his teeth into this battle, needing to backtrack into the tunnel before his name was even called.

Windows of opportunity on the Cilic serve were sure to be few and far between and a razor sharp Rublev created two when he walloped a forehand cross-court on the run to elicit the first break points of the set.

Winners flew thick and fast as the 20th seed fended off both with an ace and a one-two punch as he went on to hold for 4-3.

Cilic again drew on his big serve to dig out of trouble as he closed to within a game of the opening set, but two games later Rublev pounced.

A first break on his sixth chance allowed him to serve for the set at 6-5 and he duly capitalised with a love hold in 54 minutes.

The Croatian persistently needed to keep the seventh seed at bay just to salvage serve but at the 66th minute, he converted on his first break point and prized open the second set.

Rublev’s frustration flared and he mumbled his displeasure at his box and at his racquet with growing frequency.

Andrey Rublev, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

“He’s winning point after point,” Rublev vented at his box.

It was a fair assessment as Cilic held with an ace for 5-2 before the nerves began to take hold two games later.

Four set points were whittled away before he levelled the match on a 17th ace and Rublev looked disconsolate seven games later when Cilic made his move to break.

A netted backhand, a clenched fist and a look of conviction towards coach Vilim Viask followed as Cilic marched to the chair with a two-sets-to-one lead.

As the showdown hit the three-hour mark, Rublev showed exemplary poise to take control from the baseline and drew the errors for his first break since the opening set.

Minutes later the contest was headed to a decider with the Chatrier faithful hungry for more.

Marin Cilic, quarts de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Clément Mahoudeau / FFT

Shadows had now completely enveloped the red clay and neither player was giving an inch as the lights brightened.

Cilic skipped to the chair within a game of victory and when the opportunity arose he backed himself to pull the trigger in a lengthy rally with a massive forehand cross-court to bring up match point.

Rublev survived and a seed of doubt had been planted as a pair of uncharacteristically wild errors sprayed from the Croatian’s racquet.

But as the match passed four hours it was Cilic who raised his level with the finish line in sight.

A heavy backhand brought up seven match points and Rublev’s backhand return into the net completed an epic encounter and a semi-final date with either eighth seed Casper Ruud or teenager Holger Rune.

Key stats

One of the most fearsome servers on tour, Cilic lived up to his reputation as he thumped down 33 aces – more than double his opponent – and just two double faults.

While Cilic picked up vastly more cheap points on serve, the pair were equally effective at holding.

The two were each broken only twice across five sets, while Rublev won 78 per cent of first-serve points, 4 per cent more than Cilic.

Cilic was dictating throughout as he struck 88 winners, 53 more than his opponent, but his 71 unforced errors were 40 more.

What the players said

Cilic: “(The fight) comes from being me. I played that kind of tennis the whole match, especially the fifth set was an incredible battle. Andrey played incredibly well and it was an incredible performance on the court – a lot of heart. One had to go down. Today it was my day," said Cilic.

“(I’m) more emotionally (tired than physically) because Andrey plays a difficult game. He serves big, hits big and you don't have many chances You've got to really keep up your level. I did that. Unfortunately I lost that fourth set.

"I thought I was close to maybe get that break, but Andrey played really well some games and when you play this long it's always going to be a little bit ups and downs during the match. I kept my focus in that game - I don't know 4-all or something - in the fifth and it was the winning game.”

Rublev: "I couldn't manage the emotions the previous times. And now it was the closest ever time that I was able to go through to be in semis. Then again, the same thing, I didn't manage the emotions.

"I don't know if I did it better compared to other matches. At least I did a better score and I was closer than other matches, but still, it is the same thing... There are so many things I need to improve. Probably the most positive thing: that I did one more quarter-final. Yeah, that's it. The rest I need to improve so many things."