Cilic Turns Certain Defeat Against Klizan Into Victory At Madrid, Ends Losing Streak

MADRID, May 6, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Main draw singles at the ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open began in earnest at Caja Mágica as four seeds, including No. 9 Marin Cilic, No. 11 Karen Khachanov, No. 14 Nikolaz Basilashvili and No. 15 Gaël Monfils, were in action on Monday.

Cilic, who hadn’t won since the Australian Open, was on the verge of a five-match losing streak against qualifier Martin Klizan of Slovakia. Then, the World No. 11 from Croatia saved four match points and dominated a final-set tie break to move into the second round with a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (0) victory that lasted two hours and 48 minutes. Next, Cilic will face German Jan-Lennard Struff, who opened play with an easy win over Nick Kyrgios of Australia on Sunday.

American qualifier Taylor Fritz, ranked No. 57, moved into the second round against World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia by firing 15 aces in his 7-6 (8), 7-6 (4) win against mistake-prone Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. The 2017 ATP Finals champion has only advanced to one quarterfinal this season.

The Frenchman Monfils won with a solid effort over Andreas Seppi of Italy, 6-3, 6-1, needing just 55 minutes to advance. Next, he will play either David Goffin of Belgium or Marton Fucsovics of Hungary. The World No. 18 dropped just nine points on his serve and broke Seppi five times.

The first causality among the seeds was Basilashvili, who lost to No. 37 Frances Tiafoe, 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-4. The American No. 2 rallied from a set and a break down and sealed his third Top 20 victory of the season by firing his 11th ace down the T on match point to advance against Philipp Kohlschreiber. The No. 50 German moved into the second round with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over No. 40 Mikhail Kukushkin by saving six of seven break points.

Arguably, the most interesting first-round match saw Khachanov face No. 55 #NextGenATP wild card Jaume Munar of Spain. The longest match of the day – three hours and three minutes – was won by the Russian, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2, but not before Munar, 22, rallied the home crowd that filled Court Arantxa Sanchez, after he won an exciting second-set tie break. Then, down a double break at 1-5 in the third set, Munar fought off two match points in the eighth game after breaking Khachanov’s serve for the fourth time. Finally, Khachanov put away the match on his third try with a backhanded volley winner at the net that capped a seven-shot rally. The win snapped Khachanov’s five-match losing streak. Next, he will face Fernando Verdasco of Spain, who advanced over Radu Albot of Moldova, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

“I am really happy with my performance today and I tried to fight until the end,” said Khachanov, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s the kind of game I’ve been looking for. I am really happy to get through to the second round, to build my confidence and go back to basics. This is the kind of win, over three hours, physically demanding, that I needed.”

Others advancing were: Big-serving No. 58 Reilly Opelka of the United States, who pounded 14 aces in his win over Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Next for the American is a second-round clash against last year’s finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, who is seeded fifth. Also, No. 32 Laslo Djere won 78 percent of his first-serve points (25 of 32) and beat fellow Serbian Dusan Lajovic, 6-4, 6-4,  to set up a second-round encounter with No. 7 Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina, who is playing in just his second tournament of the year as he continues his comeback from knee surgery.

Notebook

• This year’s Mutua Madrid Open field is star studded. Seventeen of the Top 20 players came to the Spanish capital to compete for this year’s title. Of note, the Top Four seeds are all former titlists: Reigning champion Alexander Zverev, seeded third, aims to defend his title against former winners Novak Djokovic, seeded No. 1; No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and No. 4 Roger Federer.

Two-time champion Djokovic makes his Madrid debut on Tuesday against Taylor Fritz in the second match of the day from noon on Court Manolo Santana, the largest show court at Casa Mágica. It will be followed by wild card David Ferrer versus Roberto Bautista Agut in an all-Spanish battle. Then, Federer, who has won Madrid three times, opens the Tuesday night session on Court Manolo Santana not before 8 p.m. against Richard Gasquet of France. Also in action: No. 5 Dominic Thiem of Austria, No. 10 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. 12 Daniil Medvedev of Russia, and No. 16 Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

• One of the more interesting doubles pairings has Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina teaming with Kei Nishikori of Japan for the first time. Both are among the Top Eight seeds in singles. On Monday, they defeated Fabio Fognini of Italy and Robert Lindstedt of Sweden, 5-7, 6-4, 10-4. While neither del Potro or Nishikori regularly play doubles, they proved to be a formidable pair, especially with del Potro’s height advantage at the net – he’s 6-feet-6-inches (1.98 m). Other interesting doubles pairs in Madrid include: Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov and Karen Khachanov, and, of course, Alexander and Mischa Zverev. Top seeds are the World No. 1 pair of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.

• More plaudits for Ferru: World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic in his pre-tournament press conference on Monday shared his praise of the soon-retiring David Ferrer, who is playing his final tournament in Madrid this week. “I share tremendous respect for David as player and as a person as well. He’s someone that has earned that respect many times in his career. His fighting spirit, his devotion to the sport is unprecedented and in a way it’s sad to see him leave,” said Djokovic.

“But I’ve talked with him the other day and he said he was preparing for this for a while and he’s ready. He has a family and obviously he’s ready for the next stage of his life. But he is always going to be welcome in our sport. And the doors will always be open for him.”

Monday’s results

Singles / first round
Q-Taylor Fritz d. Grigor Dimitrov, 7-6 (8), 7-6 (4)
No. 9 Marin Cilic d. Q-Martin Klizan, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (0)
Laslo Djere d. Dusan Lajovic, 6-4, 6-4
No. 15 Gaël Monfils d. Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 6-1
Q-Reilly Opelka d. Pablo Carreño Busta, 7-6 (5), 6-4
No. 11 Karen Khachanov d. WC-Jaume Munar, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3
Frances Tiafoe d. No. 14 Nikolaz Basilashvili, 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-4
Philipp Kohlschreiber d. Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-2, 7-6 (5)
Richard Gasquet d. WC-Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 7-5, 7-6 (5)
Fernando Verdasco d. Radu Albot, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1