For an hour and a half, it had all so been so routine and expected. After a few shaky moments early in the first set, Novak Djokovic had settled in and put up a clay fortress on his side of the court. When necessary, he shot arrows, in the form of penetrating down the line backhands, out the windows. There seemed to be no way for the erratic Croat to find a way over the walls. There was a reason Djokovic was 8-0 against Cilic for his career, and we were seeing it again here.
But three sets is a long time to keep a Top 30 player out in the cold, especially one who refuses to go away. A stubbornly calm Cilic began to make headway in the third set, going up 4-2 and earning a set point at 6-5. After squandering both of those opportunities, he broke free completely in the tiebreaker. A series of big serves and forehands finally knocked the fortress down and extended the match.
In the fourth set, the two players did it all over again. Djokovic settled back into his earlier groove and went up 4-1; when he earned break points on Cilic’s serve in that game, it appeared to be all over, the third set nothing more than a blip. But again Cilic wouldn’t go away. He came back to hold, broke Djokovic with a stretch volley winner at 2-4, and evened the set at 4-4. Then, with Djokovic talking to himself and a fifth set suddenly looking plausible, Cilic decided to go away. Down 4-5, he double faulted at match point; Djokovic was through, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
It may, in the end, have been an ideal way for the No. 2 seed to advance. He was tested, felt his share of nerves, did his share of sweating and venting, yet ultimately prevailed without expending an excessive amount of energy. Djokovic played aggressively enough to hit 33 winners and make 37 unforced errors, and had a key shot for him, the backhand down the line, clicking for most of the day. What he’ll be less pleased with is his break-point conversion rate: He was seven for 22.
Djokovic will probably need to better in that department in his next match, which will come against either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Jerzy Janowicz.