Marin Cilic reached his first-ever US Open semifinal on Thursday with surprising ease, given the late stage of the season's final Grand Slam. Cilic, the No. 14 seed, dominated the first two sets 6-2, 6-4 against Tomas Berdych before going to tiebreak in the final set and winning 7-4.
Sensing he had all the momentum while Berdych was reeling, Cilic quickly rebooted during his service games as he finished off several games in under a minute. His first two sets took a combined total of 72 minutes, while the third set tiebreak lasted exactly one hour.
Berdych was stiff in the first set, struggling to place his serves. He wound up being broken in four of his first five games and it seemed as if Cilic would roll over his opponent -- as he did in a straight sets win at Wimbledon this past June. Big-serving Berdych actually entered with a 5-3 advantage in head-to-head matchups, but he struggled to trace Cilic's serves as the Croat drove home ace after ace, 19 in all.
"We are both hitting big. It's a matter of who's going to put pressure on the other guy and I think I did that a bit better," Cilic said during the postmatch interview. Cilic hit 63 percent of his first serves in compared to just 50 percent for Berdych -- a number that would've been much lower if not for a stat-altering third set.
Down 2-0, Berdych finally found his rhythm and was up an early break, on-serve at 4-2 when the momentum of the match completely swung back in Cilic's favor. Chasing down a ball that had hit the cord and popped over the net, Berdych argued with chair umpire Louise Engzell that he had in fact reached the ball and sliced it back over the net before the double bounce. Replays confirmed the umpire's initial call even as Berdych berated her.
"Have you ever had a racket in your hands? It's impossible to hit that shot if it bounces twice," cameras heard him say as he stood looking up to the umpire.
"You never have a clue about tennis, then you call bullshit like this."-Berdych berating chair ump Louise Engzell for *correct* call.#usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 4, 2014
The point set him back 40-15 and he was, unsurprisingly, eventually broken by Cilic. Berdych drove it to a tiebreak but Cilic, with match point hanging in the balance, popped a running returner down the right alley that Berdych couldn't defend. With that, Cilic was into the semifinals, his first Grand Slam final four appearance since the 2010 Australian Open.
A lot has happened since then, including a nine-month doping suspension last year that saw him sit out the US Open. He seems to have put that behind him and now looks forward to a shot at his first-career Grand Slam finals appearance. He'll face the winner of Thursday night's Gael Monfils-Roger Federer tussle.