A qualifier trumped the top seed. The underdog became the hero. Jozef Kovalik, a little known Slovakian, sent top seed Marin Cilic packing from the Chennai Open with a 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-5 victory at the Centre Court. It was his biggest win of the career, and it came in the same city where he made his ATP World Tour debut last year.
Marin Cilic served well, but we was found wanting in his return games. He couldn’t force a winner despite being in the right position to go for it and that stuck like a sore thumb against a qualifier who went after Cilic’s return and smacked the ball down the tramlines on either side of the court.
Cilic struggled with his movement, especially when it came to retrieving the ball from his left and the backhands were a big letdown for the big-serving Croat.
Right from the start, Kovalik made it clear that he was going for the kill, threatening to break Cilic’s very first service game. The Slovakian was angling the ball well, targeting the forecourt corner to get his points. With the top seed not connecting the ball well, Slovakian was able to go for his shots easily.
Though the first set went into the tie-break, Cilic's aces majorly limiting the damage early on, it was the 24-year-old Slovakian who conceded the first mini break with a double fault. But he broke back immediately and won the first set on his second point opportunity.
For the record, Marin Cilic, the 2009 and 2010 Chennai Open champion, served 18 aces in the match.
The second set showed glimpses of the old Cilic. He won on Kovalik’s serve on the first breakpoint opportunity and looked like setting things in order and looked in a much better rhythm for a 7-5 win in the second set.
In the third set, knowing an upset was very much a possibility, Cilic began to charge a lot more charge towards the net; his feet movement quickened and he began hitting more forcefully, but against Kovalik, who was matching him stroke for stroke and gaining in confidence, it was still not good enough.
The crowd, which had been cheering Cilic till then, switched sides. They began to believe in the underdog, and their belief wasn’t misplaced.
Singles: Josef Kovalik (Svk) bt Marin Cilic (Cro) 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-5; Dudi Sela (Isr) bt Hyeon Chung (Kor) 6-2, 6-2; Daniil Medvedev (Rus) bt Yen-Hsun Lu (Tpe) 6-4, 6-4; Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Esp) bt Steve Darcis (Bel) 6-2, 6-0.
Doubles: Rohan Bopanna & Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan bt Marcelo Demoliner (Bra) & Nikola Mektic (Cro) 6-4, 6-4; Steve Darcis (Bel) & Benoit Paire (Fra) bt Saketh Myneni & Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 0-6, 10-8; Nicholas Monroe (USA) & Artem Sitak (Nzl) bt Konstantin Kravchuk & Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) 7-6 (5), 6-3.
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