Read & Watch: Cilic Cruises Past Japanese Hope Sugita In Tokyo
Croatian star next plays Chung
One year ago, top-seeded Marin Cilic lost his first-round match at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships. On Monday, the Croat showed that he was determined not to suffer a disappointing early loss in Tokyo again.
Cilic battled hard to move past home favourite Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 6-4, reaching the second round after one hour and 14 minutes. The 31-year-old has lost his opening match at a tournament just once since May.
"I really, really like Yuichi. We've known each other since 2005. We played juniors together. He's been coming to [former Cilic coach] Bob Brett's academy for so many years, where I practised for more than nine years. We practised so many times, had so many practice sessions together," Cilic said. "He's an amazing guy in terms of he's extremely humble, hard-working, too."
The sixth seed was clean on serve throughout the match, facing only one break point, which he erased. Cilic won 88 per cent of his first-serve points, losing just five points on his first delivery.
The World No. 30 was opportunistic as well, converting the two break points he earned on Colosseum, ousting Sugita in their first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. Cilic will next face 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung, who rallied past Italian Lorenzo Sonego 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes.
Cilic is currently at his lowest ATP Ranking since February 2014. But he has shown signs of his best form, defeating John Isner en route to the fourth round of the US Open, where he fell against eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Cilic is pursuing his first title in Asia.
The Croat leads Chung 3-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with their most recent match coming at 2016 Brisbane, when Chung was only 19.
Did You Know?
Every season from 2008-18, Cilic captured at least one ATP Tour title. Without a trophy to his name so far this year, the Croat is trying to extend that streak to 12 straight seasons.