Rafael Nadal has raised his level of play to defeat Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 for a place in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The win means Rafa is now 1-1 in the head to head with Cilic, having been comprehensively beaten in their only previous meeting.
Nadal opened by breaking Cilic after the Croat had lead 40-0. The Spaniard, who had a 2.5kg deficit after sweating profusely in his match against Tomic, seemed either thinner or to be wearing a much bigger shirt. It wasn’t clear if it was just a bigger shirt or if the ailing Nadal had lost weight. In his post match conference after the Tomic match he suggested he’d be fine if he ate more. Apparently at his practice earlier in the day he was seen complaining to a Nike rep about his shirt.
Nadal battled to hold serve for 12 minutes in the fourth game, and the two seemed unable to decide who would win the fifth game also. Eventually Nadal, after whacking himself in the hand with his own racquet, got the second break and a 4-1 lead after 39 minutes of intense play.
The average service game of both players was over six minutes and Nadal was taking an average of 34 seconds between points to Cilic’s annoyance. Early on Cilic walked away from the baseline when Nadal prepared to serve prompting the umpire to check if he was OK, but it was just in protest to Nadal taking his time around the court.
Nadal’s serve was far superior to the horrendous one that plagued his match against Tomic, but he was still working hard to hold as Marin tried to play some aggressive, high risk tennis. Last years semi finalist Cilic managed to hold at 5-2 to make Nadal serve for the set after 56 minutes and some huge forehands from Marin.
Marin continued to play some positive aggressive tennis, forcing Nadal into some incredible rallies as both players battled to 3-3. With a few break points in the following game Nadal continued hit short balls, Marin defending break points with his huge forehand before eventually being broken, Rafa drawing first blood for a 4-3 lead.
When Nadal stepped up to serve for a two sets to love lead, more short balls gave Marin a chance to flatten out his huge forehand and get a break point chance. Nadal thumped down a serve and managed to hod for a 6-2, 6-4 lead. Nadal’s first serve percentage was up to 80%, almost 30% higher than against Bernard Tomic two nights earlier.
During the third set Cilic complained about the time Nadal was taking between points but it didn’t help his cause, despite the fact that Nadal was taking an average 31 seconds between points, Cilic taking an average of 26 seconds when the rule is 20 seconds.
Cilic was broken by Nadal who followed with a strong hold for a 5-3 lead. When Cilic stepped up to serve to keep things alive he found himself with three match points to defend. As he had throughout the match he saved the first with a huge ace, a second huge serve kept things alive for a bit longer but a double fault ended things after two hours and 31 minutes.
The ever popular Nadal was cheered loudly by the crowds as he thanked them after saying he was feeling ‘perfect’ for the first time and had stopped sweating profusely. Nadal is so popular that after his practice on Sunday he was mobbed by fans as security struggled to transport him away from the public. Only Wawrinka, Nadal and Murray have progressed to the quarterfinals without dropping a set.