As the tennis sneakers of Sam Querrey and Marin Cilic tread on the green lawn of the All England Club this Friday, more than just a first Wimbledon final spot is on the line.
The pair have had their squabbles before on grass, with no less than three of their four previous meetings occurring on that very surface. All their encounters went to a deciding set, and all encounters went the way of the tall Croatian no. 7 seed. Sam Querrey has some serious mental scar tissue.
But Querrey has healed from scars multiple times during his career. He beat Novak Djokovic in the third round of Wimbledon last year. Underlining Querrey’s achievement: Djokovic had won the last four Grand Slam tournaments in a row.
Querrey is accustomed to the ups and downs of tennis. He knows the drawing board in and out. The very best can shift their game when they need to; the American lacks the abundance of talent to do so. Querrey is not exactly the type to shift to a B-game during matches anyway. He’ll just stick to his guns, namely his serve & forehand combo.
And his opponent today? Well, who could forget Cilic lifting the 2014 US Open trophy? That was the moment all came to fruition for the Croatian, who was already an household name. But it was a long road there for Marin. It was back in 2010 when he knocked on the door of the big four for the first time as he reached the Australian Open semifinal, losing to Andy Murray.
He sure did look to be the real deal then. But like for so many of his generation, his progress stagnated, perhaps because he lost the freewheeling attitude that helps young players make breakthroughs on the tour. Then he also was banned from the tour for four months when traces of nikethamide, a performance enhancer, were found in a urine sample. His career prospects looked grim.
But Cilic made a strong step forward when he hired fellow countryman and 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic to be his coach. Under his teachings Marin began dominating his matches from the baseline again with penetrating shots off both wings. When he delivered a God mode like performance against five time US Open champ Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Open in 2014 (winning 6-3,6-3,6-3), it made a believer out of us all.
Cilic has never again reached the highs of that glorious US Open campaign. However, slowly but surely he has climbed back up the rankings in 2017, becoming a steady fixture inside the top 10 once more. Still he has managed to fly under the radar. The same can be said for Querrey, who has for over a year now been meandering in and out of the top 30. So, before we lay this match-up under the magnifying glass, here’s the tale of the tape regarding their Wimbledon route to the semifinals.
Form this tournament:
Querrey has done it the hard way, making his run to the semis all the more heroic. He beat Thomas Fabbiano in straights, dropped a set against Nikoloz Basilashvili, prevailed 7-5 in the decider versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, survived another five setter against resurgent Kevin Anderson, and defeated all the odds when he took out an ailing Murray in the quarterfinals stage, also in five. You can read back the match point-by-point right here.
His consistency has been stellar. His serve never wavers and everything flows from there. His longest match was just over three hours against Anderson so while fatigue is just around the corner he hasn’t had the toughest of physical marathon matches to recuperate from. Ice baths do wonders these days. He has just been riding on adrenaline this tournament and as Roger Federer stated after his quarterfinal win:
“Adrenaline can get you a whole lot further!”
Always listen to the king.
Marin Cilic’s run is even more impressive, it has to be said. Some very convincing wins. He swatted away the likes of Philip Kohslchreiber, Florian Mayer, and Steve Johnson in the early rounds. All big grass court resume waving tennis professionals. Roberto Baustista Agut could only muster up six games against Cilic in the fourth round.
It wasn’t until the quarters that the real challenge took shape in the form of Gilles Müller. The 34-year old veteran has just won the Ricoh open for his second title and edged out Nadal in an instant classic 17-15 in the deciding set in the fourth round. Cilic was tested by the Luxembourger’s tricky lefty serve. It wasn’t until the fifth set that Cilic unleashed his potential, trouncing a deflated Müller 6-1 in the decider after a slugfest that took 3.5 hours. His forehand has been his biggest weapon this Wimbledon campaign.
Querrey has no secrets to his game. Everyone who’s about to watch a Querrey match knows what he brings to the court, including himself and his adversary. That can be a good thing, but it can also give your opponent an irreversible advantage. It’s positive when you know your own game best of course, and with it, its limits.
Lucky for Sam, his personality suits his playing style like a glove. He has a tidy mature looking game, and coloring inside the lines with his groundstrokes is exactly what he’ll be hoping to do against Cilic. Don’t expect him to freestyle out there. He’s very meticulous on the job. Whenever his opponent can force him to pull the trigger prematurely they know they have found a chink in Querrey’s disciplined tennis mind.
That said, Querrey has a game suited for the grass, and halting his service momentum can be a daunting task. With his big serve he can hit all the spots. His backhand is his weaker side and because he’s not light on his feet many have exploited that side with great success in the past.
His opponent, at first glance, wields the same type of weapons, but apart from the serve Cilic has more versatility to rely on. You won’t see many drop shots coming off the strings of his racquet, but he throws in little nuances to his shots now and then. His strength is, and will always be, his forehand. He’s very adept to hitting acute angles to pull his opponent out of court. His new coach Jonas Björkman, famous for his angled shots, has left his mark there.
His serve is really underrated. He almost doubled the amount of aces he hit against Müller with 33 bombs. After his serve he won’t come to the net as frequently as Querrey but he has the natural instinct to recognize when he needs to come forward. Cilic won 80% when coming to the net against Müller, showing immense proficiency and progress in that department. His service returns however, have been labeled questionable in the past, and that’s what Querrey needs to keep in the back of his mind.
As I talked about earlier, the pair have a history on the English grass. Two times, in 2009 and 2012, they locked horns and went to a deciding set at Wimbledon. When they met at Queens in 2012 Cilic needed a third set to put away the resilient Querrey. Their 2012 meeting in Wimbledon is still to this day the second longest match after the famous Mahut-Isner marathon at Wimbledon. They ran down every ball over five hours and 31 minutes.
This is going to be their fifth meeting and Querrey has yet to come out the victor. But he has come awfully close each time, and Marin knows this as well.
So what does Querrey need to do to claim his maiden win over the 6’6’’ Croatian powerhouse and exact that sweet, sweet revenge?
He’ll have to protect his serve first of all. When he can pull that off consistently he can focus on the return games more. Then he’ll need to take time away from Marin. Which will be hard to do as Cilic can take the ball on the rise far easier than Querrey due to his racquet head speed and footwork. I’ll certainly be zooming in on Querrey’s court position and speed around the court as his three consecutive five setters might have taken a toll on his body.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and go with Querrey in yet another five setter! Of course, the odds favor Cilic, and so does their head to head record, but this is a tournament of big upsets after all. I just think Cilic has had enjoyed some luck on his side in their previous meetings to boast a clean sheet against Sam. Of course Marin has the grass court game to reach a Wimbledon final one day, if it’s not this year.
Querrey just seems to have enough energy in the tank and he’s had his matches on centre court. He obviously feels comfortable on the big stages. As an American he has dealt with a rowdy US crowd on numerous occasions and he handled the British attendants, of which almost all of them were rooting for Murray, with poise and a classy demeanor. Sam is antics free and has an amical feel about him. That’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Britain and they respect him for it. I don’t think he’s alienated himself from one Brit this past fortnight. Hell, he might even be their favorite too.
Yes, I believe Querrey’s quest for some long overdue sweet revenge will come to an end today!
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