Marin Cilic is evidently in a happy space. In his first media interaction, the burly Croat of gentle demeanour extended New Year greetings with a wide grin and jokingly grabbed at a few phone recorders as if they were gifts for him. He even charmed the local populace by calling the Pune weather the best on tour.
On Wednesday at the Balewadi Stadium, the calmness and serenity reflected on court, as he overcame a mid-match blip to beat Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 and enter the singles last eight at the Tata Open Maharashtra.
The top seed wasn’t quite at full throttle, but controlled and calculated in his shot-making. Most of his hits were cross-court, to open up space either with inside-out forehands or double-handed backhand drives and then look for the easy put-away.
They also served as iterative exercises to assess the range and the power required, for playing clean first-strike tennis can be tough under lights here in Pune. A solitary break in the fourth game was all that was required to give him the set.
But at 2-3 in the second, the World No. 17 relaxed a tad and Carballes Baena was quick to capitalise by breaking Cilic. Even as the crowd anticipated a comeback, the Spanish World No. 74 took care of his serve remarkably well, holding to love and 30 to clinch the set 6-3 and level the contest.
Cilic, however, pressed the reset button and came back from the changeover with guns blazing. He ran up a 5-0 lead in no time, losing just three points in all. Even as his murderous serve – 16 aces in the match – elicited from the audience the usual gasps and whoops, what stood-out was his court-coverage, as he raced around like greased lightning.
Carballes Baena, admirably, refused to roll over and even earned two breakpoints in the seventh game. The result, though, was never in doubt.
Earlier in the day, the second-seeded Dutchman Botic Van de Zandschulp weathered a stiff challenge from the Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli 7-5, 6-4, but the tournament’s third and fourth seeds, Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori and Argentina’s Sebastian Baez respectively, crashed out.
The results (Singles, second round):
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- FIH Pro League: India looks to continue recent domination over table leader Netherlands