The ball was a blur and Marin Cilic pursued it with all the determination of a man running after his runaway rental car as it rolled down the hill with his racquets trapped in the trunk. Seven games into today's Cincinnati quarterfinal, Novak Djokovic punished a pair of forehands down opposite lines sending Cilic into side-to-side sprints, lunging in vain as the ball bounced off the back wall.
That point summed up the match: a commanding Djokovic put plenty of distance between himself and the 12th-seeded Croatian and though Cilic put in the hard yards, he could never quite close the gap.
Playing with relaxed precision and covering the court comprehensively, Djokovic dismissed Cilic, 6-3, 6-2, to roll into the Cincinnati semifinals, scoring his 14th-consecutive hard-court triumph and raising his 2012 hard-court record to 28-2.
These two have a history that dates back to the junior days and little of that past is positive for Cilic. Djokovic won 14 of the prior 15 sets the pair played, dominating the head-to-head history with a 6-0 record. The first three games underscored Djokovic's overwhelming advantage in this match-up. The 6'6" Cilic is a fine mover who displayed all-court skills in winning 20 of his last 24 matches. The 2010 Australian Open semifinalist is a quality player, but Djokovic does everything a bit better.
Holding at love to open, Djokovic chipped away at a 40-0 lead in the next game, targeting Cilic's weaker forehand wing and drawing a pair of wristy forehand errors that landed long to break for 2-0. Down double-break point in the ensuing game, Djokovic produce a brilliant shot combination: Slice serve wide to open the court, the inside out forehand to stretch Cilic and a bullet of a backhand winner down the line, before burying an ace in the corner of the box to hold for 3-0.
The second-ranked Serbian saved 28 of 29 break points he faced last week in capturing his 12th career Masters title in Toronto and he's been stingy on serve this week. Djokovic fought off all four break points he faced today — the only break points he's faced in the tournament.
Credit Cilic for hanging tough against a daunting opponent — Cilic staved off three set points in holding during a demanding 11-minute game for 3-5 — but Djokovic is so proficient hitting on the run he shrunk the court and squeezed Cilic's options. Djokovic held at love to seize the first set.
Changing direction more effectively than his opponent, Djokovic broke for 2-1 when Cilic missed a forehand down the line and broke again for 5-2 as a Cilic inside-out forehand floated long. Fighting off break points in the final game, Djokovic closed with successive stinging serves.
"It's a very good match for me; I think the best performance so far in this tournament," Djokovic told ESPN2's Jimmy Arias. "I played well against a player who is in very good form, so to come through the quarterfinals quite comfortably is a very good win."
The victory sends Djokovic into a highly-anticipated semifinal showdown with Juan Martin del Potro in a battle of the current and and former U.S. Open champions. The second-ranked Serbian has won four of their six meetings, but del Potro has prevailed in their last two matches, including an emotional 7-5, 6-4, triumph in the bronze-medal match at the London Olympic Games, which was Djokovic's last loss.