Australia’s Alex de Minaur faced off against Croatia’s Marin Cilic in a night match on Louis Armstrong Stadium. 208th at the start of the year de Minaur has risen to no. 45 going into the US Open. Cilic is ranked at no. 7 and had reached the Australian Open final in 2018. Cilic is also the 2014 US Open champion.
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Photo: NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 01: Alex de Minaur of Australia returns the ball during the men’s singles third round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia on Day Six of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 1, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Cilic got off to a good start by breaking the Australian early. You could have expected Cilic to power away to a comfortable win. de Minaur had other ideas. The 19-year-old quickly broke back and would break again to be able to claim the first set 6-4. de Minaur was out hustling Cilic and the big Croatian was missing a lot of shots.
The second set was much the same with de Minaur forcing Cilic to hit one more ball and forcing errors. The Australian would take a commanding 6-4, 6-3 lead.
Into the third set, de Minaur was looking a step slower and wasn’t making the same shots as he had in the first two sets. To go with that Cilic was finding his range more often and he worked his way back into the match after winning the third set 6-3. The 2014 US Open champion hit 15 winners to 34 errors in the first two sets and struggled to find the range on his forehand. Cilic gifted the second set to de Minaur with a doublefault on set point.
Cilic still continued to pressure the Australian and the errors started to flow from de Minaur. The Australian saved plenty of breakpoints in the fourth set, but it was the one from seven that was enough to see Cilic level the match after taking the fourth set 6-4.
de Minaur was playing just his third five-set match and was clearly tired. He was not getting around the ball and shots that would go in earlier in the match were going out. Cilic raced away to a 5-2 lead with de Minaur serving to keep the match alive. Cilic worked de Minaur from side-to-side and the Australian could be seen to pause each time as he changed direction, earlier in the match he was lightning fast.
Cilic had three-match points and was in command on each occasion, working de Minaur all around the court, but the Australian dug deep to get to Ad, but then double-faulted to see the score back at deuce. More fighting got the Ad. A few errors later from de Minaur and it was a fourth match point for Cilic. After a long rally, it was the Croatian that buckled, hitting long.
Just as the clock ticked over to 2 am Cilic had a look at his fifth match. de Minaur again dug deep and stayed alive after Cilic hit into the net. A big serve got de Minaur the Ad. Another long rally saw de Minaur’s shot clip the top of the net before it fell back on his side. The tension was building and Cilic gave de Minaur a game point when he hit wide. Some good angled hitting got Cilic to deuce before a Cilic error saw de Minaur step up to serve with a game point. de Minaur slugged away to eventually hit a winner and stay in the match.
Cilic was now serving at 5-3. He opened with an ace. That was followed up by an unplayable serve for 30-0. de Minaur was not going away. He hit two flat down the line shots, the second was a winner. A double-fault followed for 30-30. The next serve de Minaur jumped all over it to blast back a return that Cilic hit into the net. Breakpoint for de Minaur. Cilic answered with a serve and volley combination to save the break. Cilic brought up match point no. 6 with a wide serve that de Minaur hit wide.
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Photo: Croatia’s Marin Cilic returns the ball to Australia’s Alex de Minaur during their 2018 US Open men’s round 3 tennis match on September 1, 2018 in New York. (Photo EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Cilic missed the first serve and then de Minaur charged the second serve to force an error from Cilic. Another missed first serve and another charge from de Minaur on the second. As de Minaur closed on the net, Cilic hit just wide. The next point saw de Minaur mistime his return and Cilic ran to the service line to hit to an open court, he missed wide for de Minaur to get the break and step up to serve at 4-5.
de Minaur won the first two points then Cilic hit a down the line winner, followed by a drop shot winner for 30-30. de Minaur still found the energy to serve an almost unplayable serve for game point. After a long rally with plenty of slice shots, it was Cilic that cracked. After 3 hours 53 minutes, it was 5-5 in the fifth.
Cilic held to love to take a 6-5 lead. Thanks to a ball that landed a fraction wide Cilic had three more match points at 0-40. This time it was too much for de Minaur to fight back from and at 15-40 Cilic found it in himself to hit a forehand winner to complete his comeback from two sets to love down. The final score was 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 after 3 hours and 59 minutes. The match ended at 2.25 am.
“It was just an insane atmosphere. [De Minaur] has an incredible fighting spirit… He played some insane tennis and I was just a little bit luckier today,” said Cilic in his on-court interview. “I’ve played a few matches in my career in the night sessions, [but] this is a moment to remember.”
A great effort from the young Australian, and a fighting effort from Cilic. A match worth sitting up for in the US, but a good afternoon of tennis in Australia. de Minaur did himself proud but came up just short.