Kovalik Beat Cilic in Chennai Open
We’re getting into the tail end of week one on the men’s singles tour, and so far things are going mostly as planned. Murray, Djokovic, and Nadal are all winning their matches. Technically Federer lost one at the Hopman Cup, but Switzerland won the tie regardless. And everyone in the top ten is still alive in their respective tournaments. With two notable exceptions. Gael Monfils didn’t enter a tournament… but Marin Cilic on the other hand. The first significant wobble from a top ten player occurred as Jozef Kovalik beat Cilic at the Chennai Open.
Like a number of player’s on the tour, Marin Cilic is one of those pegged to succeed the Big Four. Perhaps even crash the party ahead of time. In addition to being a very talented player on paper, he also has a Grand Slam to his name (something only two other active non-Big Four players can claim). He was also the only player not named Murray, Djokovic, or Nadal to win a Masters titles in 2016. The credentials are there. Yet at the age of 28, Cilic has yet to make that big leap to the very top of the game, and one could be forgiven for wondering if he ever will.
Kovalik Beat Cilic in Three Sets
24 year old Jozef Kovalik, on the other hand, was ranked 117th in the world going into the Chennai Open. He entered as a qualifier, and his second round match up with Cilic was his first time playing a top-ten player. On paper this match was a lock.
Kovalik didn’t find it easy going by any stretch of the imagination. Cilic hit 18 aces and had eleven break point opportunities. But in the end, Kovalik still battled his way to victory. The final score was 7—6 (7—5), 7—5, 7—5, and Kovalik now goes on to face world number 99, Daniil Medvedev, in the third round.
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It’s a bit premature to call crisis on Marin Cilic’s season. Upsets happen. And, while losing to a player outside the top 100 in that player’s first match against a top ten is far from desirable, Kovalik is on the rise. His 117th place in the rankings at the end of 2016 is a career high for the Slovakian, and having seemingly called time on his doubles career, his singles ranking has been climbing steadily ever since.
Cilic will be hurting from this loss, no doubt. But a good showing in the Australian Open will all but banish those demons. As for Kovalik, his victory will likely see him rise another ten places to within touching distance of the top 100.