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Cilic evoking memories of the past as Rublev’s quarterfinal woes continue at Roland Garros Tennis

Marin Cilic joins Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray as the fifth active man to reach semifinals or better at all four Grand Slam tournaments. Photo credit: Getty

By Ricky Dimon

Marin Cilic is making it feel like we’re back in 2014….

Cilic would still have to win two more matches before he can lift a second Grand Slam trophy, but he is certainly evoking memories of the U.S. Open eight years ago with his current level of play at Roland Garros. The 33-year-old continued his improbable run with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(10-2) victory over Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon.

Cilic’s semifinal appearance may be a surprise, but there is no way Rublev was unprepared for what the Croat threw at him in this contest. After all, it’s not like it came out of nowhere. On the heels of several underwhelming seasons that saw his ranking plunge as low as 47th in the world, Cilic is back up to No. 23 and he has been especially impressive in Paris. The 20th seed dropped only one set prior to the quarters and in the fourth round he annihilated world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

Much unlike Medvedev, Rublev at least managed to make it close in the quarters. In the end, though, the 24-year-old fell victim to Cilic’s offensive onslaught. Cilic blasted 33 aces and in total struck 88 winners–a ridiculous 53 more than Rublev.

“I would say (it was) high quality from both of us,” the three-time Grand Slam finalist assessed. “Andrey played also a great level. I think he’s one of the most consistent guys on the tour, hitting big and serving big. I had to play my big game. Luckily I was serving fantastic today.

“Yeah, what a battle. I can’t say anything more. It was really, really close at the end, the fifth set. He had a break point at 5-all, (I) hit an ace, and I (also) had a match point; really long point. Overall (it was) really emotionally draining.”

Andrey Rublev fell to 0-5 in Grand Slam quarterfinals. EPA-EFE/RHONA WISE

With the win, Cilic is the 24th man in the Open Era and the fifth active man to reach at least the semifinals at all four majors.

Now, can he advance to the final in all four (in addition to winning the 2014 U.S. Open, Cilic finished runner-up at Wimbledon in 2017 and at the 2018 Australian Open–both to Roger Federer). Speaking of Federer, Cilic said during his press conference on Wednesday that his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 destruction of the Swiss in the 2014 semis at Flushing Meadows remains the best match he has ever played.

Pretty much every match Cilic has played this fortnight may be near the top of the list–much to the chagrin of Rublev. With Wednesday’s loss, the world No. 7 is now 0-5 lifetime in Grand Slam quarterfinals. On the bright side, he had been 0-12 in total sets in four slam quarters prior to pushing Cilic the distance.

At 24 years old, Rublev still has plenty of time to get over the hump. But he isn’t getting any younger and teenagers like Carlos Alcaraz (No. 2 in the 2022 race to Turin) and Holger Rune (lost to Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals on Wednesday) are rising rapidly.

“Mental; everything (is) mental,” Rublev responded when asked about his quarterfinal roadblock. “I couldn’t manage…all the time I couldn’t manage the emotions the previous times. And now it was the closest ever time that I was able to go through to be in (the) semis. Then again, the same thing; I didn’t manage the emotions.

“I don’t know if I did it better compared (to) other matches. At least I did (a) better score and I was closer than other matches. But still, (it) is the same thing.”

For Cilic, he is hoping the 2022 French Open ends the same way as the 2014 U.S. Open. That won’t be easy with Rafael Nadal still in the draw, but at this rate Cilic cannot be counted out against anyone.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.