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Marin Cilic of Croatia celebrates winning his semi-final tennis match against Australia’s Nick Kyrigos at the Fever Tree Championship at Queen’s Club in London, Britain, 23 June 2018. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL



By Richard Pagliaro


LONDON—Tactical acumen is a Novak Djokovic asset.


The former world No. 1 carries a double-fisted game-plan into tomorrow’s Fever-Tree Championships final against Marin Cilic.


“Have a racquet in both hands,” Djokovic quipped after defeating Jeremy Chardy, 7-6 (5), 6-4, to advance to his first ATP final since he captured his 68th career title at Eastbourne last June.


The 31-year-old Serbian continued his mastery of Chardy, defusing the Frenchman for the 11th time in as many meetings. Djokovic has won all 26 sets he’s played vs. Chardy.


The Djoker’s wild ways have paid dividends on grass.


Djokovic won Eastbourne as a wild card last year and will play for his fifth career grass-court crown as a wild card tomorrow.


The sixth-ranked Cilic expected a tie-break tug of war facing menacing server Nick Kyrgios on the low-bouncing lawn of Queen’s Club.


The top-seeded Croatian delivered determined pull when it mattered most.


In today’s first semifinal devoid of a single service break, Cilic fended off Kyrgios, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), to reach the Fever-Tree Championships final for the second straight year.


Nearly untouchable on his own serve throughout the week, Kyrgios could lay a significant hand on Cilic’s serve today.


Cilic clubbed 11 aces to just one double fault, served 72 percent, permitted just six points on first serve and did not face a break point in the match.


“It was tough,” said Kyrgios, who pushed Cilic to deuce in the opening game. “The worst serves he only played was the first game in the match. I maybe had a little look there. Apart from that he played pretty well.


“I knew his serve was going to be tough today. I thought his forehand was really, really good. His first ball after his serve was pretty good. Yeah, I mean, it was a couple of points in it.”


The 2014 US Open champion played cleaner tennis in both tie breaks exploiting an errant forehand for the mini-break and a 4-2 lead in the first-set breaker.


The 23-year-old Aussie rapped his third double fault into the top of the tape to open the second-set tie break.


That was all Cilic needed quickly extending the lead to 5-2 before closing a confident 85-minute performance on a backhand error.


Competing with calm clarity, Cilic advanced to his second final of the season and first title match since falling to Roger Federer in the Australian Open championship match in January.


The 2017 Wimbledon finalist is playing the most assertive grass-court tennis of anyone aside from reigning Wimbledon champion Federer in reaching his fourth Queen’s Club final in 12 consecutive appearances at the historic London club.


Kyrgios rocketed 32 aces beating British No. 1 Kyle Edmund on Thursday and matched that total defeating defending champion Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals yesterday. The rangy Cilic represents a much different challenge and confined Kyrgios to 16 aces today.


The 6’6″ Croatian combines an elastic reach with an explosive first step enabling him to at least get his Head racquet on some serves and plant a slight seed of doubt in the volatile Aussie.


“Just maybe a feeling or a guessing maybe sometimes,” Cilic said of his return game. “Sometimes you wait, you hold. It’s just a matter of the feeling. I think in some occasions Nick was serving, you know, really big and he creates the angle amazingly easy. Just opens up the court big time and not easy to cover it.


“But a lot of them I was barely catching them. So that was maybe just plays on his mind that he tries to go for a little bit more, a little bit bigger, you know. He didn’t hit as many aces today as yesterday, so that showed that I was returning quite all right and, you know, most of the points I felt that I had a good hit at the return and on the next shot even neutralized him so I was already even in the rally. So that was quite good.”


Despite the defeat, Kyrgios can draw confidence from riding successive grass-court semifinals into Wimbledon with his only lawn losses coming against the reigning Wimbledon champion and 2017 runner-up.


“I feel confident, for sure,” Kyrgios said. “There’s a lot of grass court players. I mean, the Grand Slams are totally different. Best-of-five sets. There’s a lot more momentum swings. “The last couple of weeks, I feel pretty untouchable on serve. Yeah, I mean, today I just didn’t have any chances to break at all. Like he played a pretty clean match.”


Cilic has withstood every challenge he’s faced this week, but none loom as large as Djokovic who has haunted the towering Croatian winning 14 of their 15 meetings, including both of their grass-court clashes at Wimbledon.


“You can see that he’s fighting hard on the court, not letting any points go by him,” Cilic said of Djokovic. “You can see that mentality is back and he’s playing good tennis. I think on grass especially he was returning great throughout the week, and that’s one of his big weapons. Obviously of course depends all on him how he feels on the court, if he feels that he’s at 100 percent physically, as well, because of the elbow, things like that, but what he’s showing and what I’m seeing from the side, he’s playing better and better, which is great to see.”


The only time the pair have faced off in a final was nine years ago in Beijing when Djokovic posted a 6-2, 7-6 (4) triumph.


However, Cilic has been playing proactive tennis this week, he defeated Djokovic in their most recent meeting at the 2016 Paris Indoors to snap an ignominious 14-match losing streak and he’s been at his best on grass.


So does that maker Cilic believe he’s ready to shift a historically lopsided rivalry?


“Yes and no,” Cilic said. “Everything has two sides. But, you know, he’s been out and he’s been having a little bit of difficulty to come back. It just shows that men’s tennis, it’s extremely strong. And also if you just lose, you know, slightly the edge or physically you’re not feeling great, it’s a really tough way to climb up.


“For me, I’m feeling confident on the court, feeling great. I had a lot of matches in this last month and a half, and I feel that my game is where it needs to be at the moment.”

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