Maharashtra Open 2018: Gilles Simon stuns Marin Cilic to enter maiden Maharashtra Open final
Top seed, Marin Cilic was stunned by Frenchman, Gilles Simon in the semifinal of the Tata Maharashtra Open in Pune. The latter made a thumping comeback after trailing by one set, and claimed the spot in the final of the ATP 250 event with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
His achievement is particularly commendable considering he is playing both singles and doubles in the tournament and is still flying high in both the arenas.
It was one-way traffic throughout the first set, where the top seed steamrolled past the clueless Frenchman with his excellent serving and powerful forehand. He won five back to back games to lead 5-0 in the set before Simon was finally able to hold serve at his third attempt.
The Croat however, stayed calm in the pressurizing situation and served the set out with ease. He had one foot in the final after he won it 6-1. He completely outclassed his opponent and showed exactly why he is among the top 6 tennis players in the world today.
Simon started getting into his own in the second set, where he matched the Croat toe-to-toe on his groundstrokes and looked ready for the fight. His persistence was awarded in the very second game of the set, where he attained two break points off Cilic's serve. He converted on his second opportunity, and there was a sudden shift in momentum as the 33-year-old raced to a 2-0 lead.
The full-packed crowd at the centre court of the Balewadi Stadium was treated to some mindblowing tennis in this phase of the game. Both the players displayed extreme efficiency on the baseline and the resurgence from Simon breathed life back into the match to make it exhilarating for the audience.
Cilic suddenly seemed to lose the clinical proficiency that he was playing with in the first set, and struggled to keep his shots in play. He trailed 0-30 in the fourth game of the set and ultimately, ended up facing two break points on his serve, yet again.
He dropped serve again, and the table had turned with a sudden and steep angle of 180 degrees in the second set. Simon was firmly in the driver's seat now, and sat there comfortably with a lead of 4-0.
This set did not go to 5-0, though, as the World Number 6 broke to love in the very next game to nullify one of the two breaks. He started to get back into his own after the break, and put up a very solid service game to hold to love to truncate Simon's lead from four games to two games.
It was now a terrific battle between Cilic's menacing forehand and Simon's accurate backhand. It was a tussle between the former's acute strokes and the latter's unreal court coverage. It was a fight between the tall, strong build of the Croat against the small, agile frame of the Frenchman.
It looked like a match worthy of a semifinal, where two top class players were fighting tooth and nail to overpower and outsmart each other.
The drama of the contest reached its crescendo when Simon was serving for the set at 5-3, and was down 30-40. The two were involved in an excruciating rally that ended with Cilic's cross-court forehand being called wide, only for the Croat to challenge the call, where it was revealed that it had clipped the sideline in the barest way possible. The point was invariably replayed. However, it same result was obtained as the game was taken to a deuce.
Simon did not let his concentration waver after that and took the set, 6-3. After almost an hour of exciting tennis, the game was back to the drawing board, with Cilic serving ahead in the decider.
He was put under immense pressure immediately, as the World Number 89 went all guns blazing and snatched the game away from Cilic. The 33-year-old had now broken the top seed in the very first game of the final set.
Cilic tried to make a comeback in the next game by notching up two break points for himself, but could not convert either. The game went to a deuce multiple times as both the players tried to break through, and ultimately, it was Simon's experience that helped him hold on to his serve (and his lead) just barely.
Both the players held their serves in the next two games. Simon was stretched to deuce once again, but managed to hold on for the second consecutive time. The scoreboard read 3-1, in favour of the Frenchman.
He then went into a robotic mode, smashing strong forehands and scintillating backhands all over the place. His game rose to such high level that he broke Cilic's powerful serve once again in the seventh game of the set.
He was now serving for the match at 5-2. He got two match points, and as he had throughout the match, grabbed the second opportunity. He is now just one step away from a 12th ATP 250 title.
Can he cross the final hurdle on Saturday?