Marin Cilic took a big step towards qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday in Basel by defeating Kei Nishikori in straight sets to claim his first Swiss Indoors title. The Croatian was all over his higher-seeded opponent from the start, dominating the rallies and limiting Nishikori’s ability to turn the match around. The third seed clawed back in the second, but could not solve the Cilic serve and in the end, it was the fourth seed who scored the title with a 6-1, 7-6(5) victory.
Nishikori stumbles out of the gate
There was some ominous foreshadowing for Nishikori before the match even began as the Japanese accidentally said he was ready for the final “tomorrow” in his pre-match interview before correcting himself. It seemed as though Nishikori was not prepared to play that day as he was sluggish and inconsistent throughout the opening set. The same cannot be said for his opponent, as Cilic opened up the match with two aces and an unreturnable serve.
After digging out of a hole in his first service game, Nishikori was in more trouble in his second. A pair of forehand winners helped Cilic on his way to 0-40 and, even though Nishikori stepped up and saved the first two, the Croatian ripped a forehand passing shot up the line for a winner on the third to take a 3-1 lead. Two games later, The Japanese double faulted to give Cilic another break point, which he converted with a stunning on the run crosscourt passing shot winner. Up a double break, the set seemed over. Nishikori was struggling to keep the ball in the court and was making it look easy for the Croatian, who held easily to wrap up the opening set 6-1.
Cilic ups level to claim title
It looked as though Nishikori’s struggles would carry over to the second set when a forehand error gave Cilic a break point in the opening game. He saved it, but had to bring his best baseline game to save two more before the game was out. In his next service game, Nishikori led the game wire to wire, the first time he had not trailed in a game so far in the match. Just as the third seed seemed to be finding his rhythm as the set progressed, Cilic reclaimed the initiative, bringing up two more break points in the seventh game. But Nishikori managed to step up and save them.
Cilic was starting to up his game too, crushing his forehand at every opportunity and he was rewarded with a double break point opportunity in the ninth game. But back-to-back errors let Nishikori off the hook. It was then the Japanese’s turn to finally get a look on the Cilic serve. With the Croatian serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Nishikori finally began putting pressure on his opponent’s serve and was rewarded with his first break points of the match, which were also set points. Three times Nishikori stood at break/set point, but on all three occasions he fired groundstrokes into the net.
A tiebreak was needed to decide the set and it was Cilic applying the pressure the entire time. The pair constantly exchanged minibreaks, although it was always Cilic taking a lead. Nishikori managed to keep leveling the score until a huge forehand from the fourth seed set up an easy volley winner to give Cilic a 5-3 lead. A service winner gave Cilic double match point at 6-4 and while he missed the first on his own serve, a double fault by Nishikori on the second gave the match and title to Cilic.
By the numbers
With the exception of the tenth game of the second set, Cilic’s serve was all but untouchable. He only had six aces, but won 81 percent of his first serve points and 65 percent of his seconds. He also saved all three break points he faced, all of them coming in that tenth game. Nishikori managed a solid 70 percent of his first serve points won, but was eaten alive when he missed his first delivery, only winning 37 percent of his second serve points. He did fairly well on break points, saving nine, but those two break against were costly.
The win is Cilic’s first in Basel and second title overall in 2016. It’s also his first 500-level title. The win solidifies Cilic’s hold on the eighth and final spot at the ATP World Tour Finals.