Cilic v Medvedev: Things we learned

 - Stephanie Livaudais

The 33-year-old stuns No.2 seed, but below the surface, signs were there for a Cilic renaissance at RG

Marin Cilic, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

In a battle between two US Open champions, it was No.20 seed Marin Cilic who put on a clay-court masterclass against world No.2 Daniil Medvedev on Monday night.

The 33-year-old found his vintage best to topple the Russian 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 under the lights on Court Philippe-Chatrier, claiming his biggest win-by-ranking in over four years.

And with last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas also going out a few hours before Medvedev’s defeat, Cilic’s result has effectively upended the bottom half of the men’s draw. Bring on the chaos!

Here’s what we learned from Cilic’s first Grand Slam fourth-round win since 2018.

Who saw this one coming?

Medvedev brought a 3-0 head-to-head record against Cilic into their first clay-court meeting on Chatrier, but the No.20 seed had no interest in sticking to the script.

Cilic has been in ominous form during the first week in Paris. He dropped a bagel set on Attila Balazs in the first round and on Gilles Simon – ending the retiring Frenchman’s Roland-Garros career – in the third round.

He has only dropped one set so far in the tournament, coming back from a set down to oust Martin Fucsovics 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round.

He carried all of that momentum into their Monday evening clash, and made a statement in the opening set as he reeled off the last four games with a double break of the Russian’s serve.

He kept his opponent firmly out of the rallies with his booming serve, winning 90 per cent (35/39) of points behind that shot. Medvedev couldn’t make any inroads in Cilic’s service games or find any way to put him under pressure: he couldn’t create any break points against Cilic across three sets, and was in turn broken five times in seven chances.

Not even the baseline was safe for Medvedev, who fired 15 winners to 18 unforced errors against Cilic’s 33 and 22, respectively. One telling stat, courtesy of Infosys, reveals that of the 85 points that Cilic won on Monday, 43 of them came from rallies between 0-4 shots.

"It was one of the best matches of my career from start to finish," Cilic said during his on-court interview.

Marin Cilic, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Remy Chautard/FFT

But don’t call it an upset…

Okay, you can maybe call it an upset, but only if you’re looking at it as a victory by a 33-year-old player outside the top 20 over an opponent seven years his junior and ranked world No.2.

Digging deeper into both players’ histories reveals that the signs were pointing toward a big Cilic moment on Chatrier. The Croatian was a Roland-Garros boys' champion on these courts back in 2005, and he’s lifted two of his 20 ATP trophies on the surface.

By comparison, it was only last year that Medvedev won his first match at Roland-Garros, or at any of the major tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome. By then, Medvedev was already ranked world No.2, and his lack of success on the red dirt was a glaring omission to his otherwise sterling resume.

Medvedev has since made great strides to adapt his world-beating hard-court prowess to clay in recent years, but he still has a long way to go before he will feel as comfortable here.

Daniil’s movement, Marin’s moment

Cilic would have been well aware of the famously clay-averse Medvedev’s limitations on this surface, and perhaps he would have taken confidence from the 565 clay-court victories in his own career.

Combining his huge serve and groundstrokes with masterful court coverage, Cilic showed off his ability to yank Medvedev out of his comfort zone and get the second seed doing his least favourite thing on his least favourite surface: moving his feet. 

After a set and a half of scrambling all over Chatrier, Medvedev found himself down 2-3 in the second and desperately trying to halt Cilic’s runaway rhythm.

But Cilic didn’t give him any openings, and used his booming forehand to great effect to drag his opponent from one doubles alley to another to get to break point. He then punished a high-bouncing Medvedev drop shot with another brilliant forehand put-away, wrong-footing the 26-year-old in the process.

By the third set, Medvedev was pelting his coaching team with a steady dialogue narrating his woes – he was slipping all over the court, his opponent just too good – and the negative body language was clear to Cilic, too.

Medvedev would meekly net a backhand slice to put an end to the match after an hour and 45 minutes, sending Cilic into his third Roland-Garros quarter-final.

Marin Cilic Daniil Medvedev Roland-Garros 2022 huitièmes

Rublev next

Cilic’s victory broke up the quarter-final that was projected for Medvedev and his good friend No.7 seed Andrey Rublev, and booked their second Grand Slam meeting of the year.

Both players will be seeking a place in their first Roland-Garros semi-final; a career-milestone for Rublev, who has never gotten to this stage at a Slam, and Cilic’s first time in the last four since the 2018 Australian Open.

Cilic will once again enter the match trailing a high-ranked opponent in their head-to-head. But again, breaking down their 4-2 record reveals some worrying trends for the 24-year-old Rublev.

Cilic won the pair’s only clay-court meeting (2015 Geneva), before Rublev claimed four consecutive wins on his favoured hard courts. And at the Grand Slam level, the Croatian made Rublev push himself to the limit just to take a set off him in their most recent meeting: a four-set win at the Australian Open this year, 7-5, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3.