Lifting the Level and Loving Life

Australian Open 2010
By Matthew Zemek, January 27th, 2010
Marin Clic

Marin Clic

Marin Cilic and Andy Murray are putting their demons behind them. Two young guns in the world of men’s tennis finally showed a readiness to seize one of the biggest prizes in their sport.

Tuesday at the Melbourne Park tennis complex, Cilic and Murray punched tickets in a semifinal showdown. The 14th-seeded Croatian and the fifth-seeded Scotsman registered quarterfinal conquests at the 2010 Australian Open. Cilic outlasted American Andy Roddick, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Murray didn’t get to win a match the traditional way, but the top 5 talent clearly outplayed Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard retired with Murray leading, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 3-0, at Rod Laver Arena.

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The greatness of Cilic’s triumph was twofold: First, the Croatian overcame a 4-hour, 38-minute marathon in the fourth round against Juan Martin del Potro and persevered in another extended slugfest.

Secondly, Cilic blew a two-set lead and faced love-40 on his own serve at the beginning of the fifth stanza, but saved those three break points. Having done so, the mentally liberated 21-year-old regrouped and pushed past the injury-hampered Roddick in five sets.

It was just four months ago that Cilic defeated Murray in the fourth round of the U.S. Open but then lost to Del Potro in the quarterfinals. This time, the protege of coach Bob Brett was able to back up one big fourth-round result with another significant success story in the round of eight.

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That shift in methodology was readily witn His physical endurance and late-match poise represent the signs of a mature performer who can handle the crucible of crunch-time competition. It’s true that del Potro and Roddick - his last two victims - were both battling injuries, but two years ago, Cilic might not have possessed the internal fortitude needed to take advantage of his wounded adversaries.

For Murray, the story is a little different. While Cilic has cause to celebrate his first-ever Major semifinal appearance, the breakthrough for the pride of Dunblane, Scotland, is more immediate in nature.

Murray played extremely passive tennis in last year’s Wimbledon semifinal loss to Andy Roddick, and interestingly enough, a similarly tame and timid performer got drilled by Cilic himself at the 2009 U.S. Open. As 2010 arrived, the tennis community felt that Murray would not win his first Big Four event unless or until he started to play aggressively and with a much more offense-first focus.
essed against Nadal, a decorated champion and an unsurpassed grinder in tennis.

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With a ferocious two-handed crosscourt backhand and lethal down-the-line shots from both wings, Murray constantly surprised his more celebrated Spanish foe. Attacking the net behind bold approaches and big serves he hasn’t always been able to deliver, Murray took the fight to last year’s Australian Open champion, dictating play despite Rafa’s very best efforts.

Though Murray blew a number of chances to break Nadal and serve for the second set as a result, Murray was able to dictate play in the second-set tiebreak that gave him a two-set lead. While Nadal covered the court and chased down numerous balls, it was the Scotsman who found himself regularly in control of rallies, and just as instructively, able to end points with thunderous groundstrokes.

If Murray plays like this, he’ll very likely win the Australian Open. But first things first: In order to reach Sunday night’s final, the man whom Murray must play next is the same person who drummed him out of New York. It’s time for two up-and-coming athletes to see if Marin Cilic’s September conquest of Andy Murray was a fluke occurrence or the sign of things to come.


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