By Abigail Johnson

  • Marin Cilic lost to Juan Martin Del Potro from two sets to love up on Sunday
  • Victory for Cilic would have secured the Davis Cup title for Croatia
  • The world no. 6 has now lost four of his last nine matches when leading by two sets
ZAGREB, CROATIA – A five-set loss in July turned Marin Cilic‘s season around for the better. But a five-set loss in the Davis Cup final could have the opposite effect.

 

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As the curtains went down on an epic Davis Cup final, all eyes were on Juan Martin Del Potro. After four wrist surgeries, a return to the ATP World Tour had often looked unlikely for the former Grand Slam champion.

Consequently the Argentine’s incredible 2016 resurgence – featuring a semi-final in his first tournament back, an Olympic silver medal, and a marathon defeat of world no. 1 Andy Murray – made him a headline presence in his country’s Davis Cup final showdown with Croatia.

When he recovered from two sets to love down to save his country from losing the tie 3-1, allowing Federico Delbonis to close out a historic triumph, the 28-year-old was not alone in shedding tears of raw emotion.

But for another man, tears of quite a different kind could have fallen behind the scenes. Croatia’s top player, Marin Cilic, entered the Davis Cup weekend off a maiden match win at the elite ATP World Tour Finals. Nevertheless, the top ten star failed to quell Del Potro – meaning that he has now lost four of his last nine matches in which he held a two sets to love advantage.

A winner of 16 ATP titles, Cilic can hardly be blamed for Sunday’s defeat. The 2014 US Open champion has, after all, been the backbone of Croatia’s Davis Cup success this season. After first round victory over 2015 finalists Belgium, the team were a doubles loss away from a quarter-final exit to the USA back in July.

The opposition even fielded the legendary Bryan brothers in the essential rubber. Nevertheless, Cilic partnered Ivan Dodig for a four set defeat of the twins, and then dismantled John Isner en route to a captivating victory for the visitors. In the following tie, efficient dismissals of Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet saw Cilic lead the team to a fearless semi-final defeat of France.

Something happened at the start of July that – surprisingly – helped turn Cilic’s average 2016 into a highly respectable one. In the Wimbledon quarter-finals, the 28-year-old utilised his massive serve and backhand to take a two sets to none lead on seven-time champion Roger Federer. He even held match points over the Swiss legend. But over the course of almost three and a half hours, he watched them slip away, and went down in five sets.

Shortly after that agonising loss, a shock maiden Masters 1000 triumph arrived for Cilic in Cincinnati – as he straight-setted Murray in the final. Three months later, he has been crowned champion at the Swiss Indoors Basel, qualified for the World Tour Finals from nowhere, and reached a career-high ranking of world no. 6. Exiting London with a defeat of Kei Nishikori, the 6’6” star looked ready to charge into 2017.

But then Del Potro happened. And as he had missed three match points against Federer at Wimbledon, Cilic missed three sets in which he could have secured Davis Cup triumph for Croatia.

One loss from two sets up instigated an impressive run of form from Cilic. But a second may derail his progress once again.

Abigail Johnson is a freelance tennis journalist, analyst and blogger based in England. You can read more of her tennis articles, musings and opinions at her website.

 

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