Tennis: Under the weather Djokovic staves off Cilic challenge

Saturday, 2018-11-03 07:28:42
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Novak Djokovic in action during his quarter-final match against Croatia's Marin Cilic. (Photo: Reuters)
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Novak Djokovic overcame nagging flu and a formidable examination from Marin Cilic, having to come from a set down to forge into the Paris Masters semi-finals with racket-smashing intensity and extend his winning streak to 21 matches on Friday.

Djokovic, who will return to world number one next week, faces Roger Federer in Saturday’s last four in Bercy after the great Swiss defeated Kei Nishikori comfortably 6-4 6-4 to move a step nearer to winning his 100th career title.

Djokovic had his personal best winning sequence of 30 consecutive sets ended as Cilic played almost flawlessly aggressive tennis to draw first blood in a magnificent duel.

Yet it only prompted Djokovic to increase his focus and produce some supreme play to turn the tide and prevail 4-6 6-2 6-3.

INTENSE MOOD

The Serb was in such an intense mood that even when he was fighting back in the second set, leading 5-2, he ended up screaming at his team, demanding to know why he had not received the vitamin tablets he had been asking for.

After being broken to go 2-1 down in the final set, Djokovic smashed his racket, accepted the code violation and steamed with anger in his seat before immediately breaking back.

When in more peril at break point down at 3-3, he delivered an amazing game-saving backhand at full stretch, which perhaps helped break Cilic’s spirit as he squandered the next game before succumbing in two hours and 11 minutes.

Federer, in stark contrast, was hardly stretched at all in despatching Nishikori, beating the Japanese for a sixth straight time while not dropping serve.

He did, though, offer a few glimpses of his very best, which will be needed to beat Djokovic in their 47th meeting on Saturday.

Germany's Alexander Zverev in action during his quarter final match against Russia's Karen Khachanov. (Photo: Reuters)

Earlier, Russian Karen Khachanov pulled off one of the big surprises of the tournament when he outplayed top young gun Alexander Zverev 6-1 6-2 to reach the other semi against Dominic Thiem, who beat defending champion Jack Sock 4-6 6-4 6-4.

Khachanov, at 22 another of the sport’s brightest prospects, took ruthless advantage of the 21-year-old German’s physical struggles as Zverev, battling with shoulder trouble, needed a medical time out in the first set at 4-1 down.

The Muscovite deserved all the credit for the quality of his power game, however, as he broke the world number five’s serve six times in 70 minutes to set up a date with Austrian Thiem, who beat champion Jack Sock 4-6 6-4 6-4.

Sock had made an unexpected return to form after a wretched year since his surprise Paris triumph but his renaissance was ended when Thiem fought from a set down to take control in a tough two-and-a-quarter hour duel.

The day’s action in Paris ensured that Cilic and Thiem are now guaranteed the last two of eight places on offer for the ATP Finals in London this month.

Ninth-placed Nishikori and 10th-placed John Isner have missed the cut but both could yet find a place if Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, currently both struggling with injury, pull out.

Reuters