Djokovic Reaches Sixth Cincy Final, One Win From History
Novak Djokovic is back in the Western & Southern Open final. It's been a familiar sight for tennis fans in Cincinnati over the years.
But following a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Marin Cilic on Saturday, the surging Serbian is not satisfied in reaching his sixth title match at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. Once again, he finds himself on the precipice of a historic first crown in Cincy.
After toppling the towering Croatian, champion in 2016, Djokovic will look to finally secure the Career Golden Masters, facing the winner of Saturday's nightcap between Roger Federer and David Goffin. The 30-time Masters 1000 titlist is on the doorstep of becoming the first singles player to secure the complete set of nine titles.
"I mean, it's a final for me and the sixth time that I'll try to win the title," said Djokovic. "Obviously this time I'm hoping that I can get my hands on the trophy. I will give my best. History is also on the line and I'm aware of that and that motivates me even more."
One day after dodging raindrops to earn a pair of wins, Djokovic needed two hour and 32 minutes to dismiss Cilic on a breezy afternoon at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. He entered with a 14-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head record in their rivalry, but was eager to overturn a two-match losing skid against the 29-year-old. Cilic won their two most recent encounters, in Paris in 2016 and in the Queen's Club final earlier this year.
Cilic was looking to confirm his recent stranglehold with a third straight win, but Djokovic refused to oblige as proceedings got underway. A tight service game saw the Croatian concede a quick break for 2-1 and his Serbian opponent was clutch in the big moments throughout the opener.
But Cilic would ensure a plot twist was in store, immediately assaulting the Djokovic serve to open the second set. A bevy of baseline blasts saw him grab a break in the second game, as he fired an inside-out forehand winner, and he would launch an ace to force a decider.
A suddenly rattled Djokovic lost his rhythm, but it would not take long for order to be restored. The former World No. 1 sealed Cilic's fate with a decisive break for 5-3 with a looping forehand winner that kissed the tramline, and he would cross the finish line on his second match point after just over two and a half hours. He fired eight aces and staved off nine of 12 break chances to prevail.
"Yesterday at 4-3 in the third, today at 4-3 in the third, both times I made crucial breaks," added Djokovic. "But, I wasn't just closing my eyes and going for the shots. I was trying to tactically play smart and strategically play the certain shots that will put me in a better position than my opponent.
"When you play guys like Cilic and Raonic, you have to be lucky to anticipate their serve, try to block it, try to put it in play, and again, develop a point in a way which will allow you to win it.
"Today I made a passing shot down the line, which was quite awesome, and I was lucky to hit the line. That's what happens. I mean, that one point, one shot, decided a winner of the match today. That's how close it was. It was similar to yesterday's match, so not much has really separated us."
While Djokovic owns the second-most trophies at the Masters 1000 level, behind only Rafael Nadal's 33, he will bid to overturn an inauspicious 0-5 record in Cincinnati finals. Runner-up to Andy Murray in 2008 and 2011, as well as to Roger Federer in 2009, 2012 and 2015, he is one of just three players in the Open Era to lose five finals at a single tournament without winning. Murray is also 0-5 at the Australian Open, while Nadal owns the same mark in Miami Open presented by Itau championships.
One month removed from notching his first title of the year at Wimbledon, Djokovic enters his first Masters 1000 final since Rome 2017 (l. to Zverev). On a 14-1 run since the start of that impressive fortnight at the All England Club, he has claimed three straight deciding-set wins this week.
Cilic, meanwhile, sees his Cincinnati win streak come to a halt at nine straight. Despite the loss, he will take great confidence to the US Open after appearing in his fifth Masters 1000 semi-final and second at the hard-court tournament.
"It was a big battle, definitely tough conditions: very hot, very humid, very different than all the matches that I have played here this week," said Cilic. "It wasn't easy to adjust in that from the beginning of the match. But just an amazing performance by him. In those critical points he lifted his level in those moments, and that earned him the victory.
"I feel with my tennis that it's on a good level. These two weeks have helped me to position myself well to prepare really well. I had tough matches here this week and last week."