Marin Cilic appeared hesitant as he stepped to the baseline to begin his Australian Open semifinal match on Thursday. Before hitting the first serve of the match, he bounced the ball more than two dozen times.
Cilic’s fidgeting presaged a poor start. He quickly fell behind after he finally put the ball in play; his opponent, Kyle Edmund, won three of the first four points to earn two immediate break opportunities.
But after the initial scare, the sixth-seeded Cilic found his groove. He hammered three consecutive service winners and never looked back, beating Edmund, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in 2 hours 18 minutes.
Edmund failed to generate any further break point opportunities in the match, while Cilic broke serve four times. Cilic dominated with his first serve, winning 90 percent of those points on his way to becoming the first Croat, man or woman, to reach an Australian Open singles final. It will be the third major final for Cilic, who won his lone Grand Slam title at the United States Open in 2014.
Hi opponent on Sunday will be second-seeded Roger Federer or unseeded Hyeon Chung. They were scheduled to play Friday evening in the other semifinal. With his run in Melbourne, Cilic will reach a career-high No. 3 in the rankings on Monday.
That will put him behind only Rafael Nadal and Federer. He has maintained a fairly low profile while other top players, like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, have been sidelined by injuries for long periods.
“Having more attention or not, I don’t mind,” Cilic said in an interview after Thursday’s match. “I’m still doing the same things. Still, I have to be focused with my own team to get better every single day, to do the things I need to.”
The 49th-ranked Edmund, like the 58th-ranked Chung, was unseeded in the draw. Though his path opened up somewhat when eighth-seeded Jack Sock lost in the first round, Edmund’s route to the semifinals was more difficult. He took out several more experienced foes, including last year’s United States Open runner-up, Kevin Anderson, in the first round and third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals.
Edmund’s run delighted the British tennis community, which has been downtrodden by Murray’s recent injury woes. But he appeared to run out of steam early in the semifinal and struggled occasionally with his movement. Edmund took an off-court medical timeout for several minutes after the first set.
In his on-court interview after the match, Cilic said that he first noticed that Edmund’s movement was limited midway through the third set as his opponent let some shots go past him.
“I was seeing that with his movement he was a little bit restricted, so I just tried to move the ball around,” Cilic said.
Edmund was reluctant to disclose any details of an injury after the match; the BBC reported that it was a hip issue.The rest of the year was mixed. Cilic lost in the third round of the United States Open, and was 0-3 in round-robin play at the World Tour Finals in London.
Now, only two Grand Slam events removed from his Wimbledon disappointment, Cilic has a chance to rectify what he called “a lost opportunity.” After winning the United States Open with Goran Ivanisevic as his coach and reaching the Wimbledon final with Jonas Bjorkman, Cilic is working this year with Ivan Cinkus, a fellow Croat with whom he said he shared a seamless connection.
“The communication is really on a good level, and you can see that straightaway on the results,” Cilic said.
That clarity has transferred to his own game, which he is deploying with purpose and pragmatism.
“I’m just understanding myself better, what I’m doing well on the court, and that if I keep doing that, I keep getting better at it,” Cilic said. “Obviously we’re all unique players, having a unique style of play. For me, when I’m playing the great tennis that I can play, it’s on a high level. I can compete with the best guys in the world. For me, that’s the understanding I’m pushing toward.