WILL EVANS’ daily preview serves up French Open tips for a showdown between unlikely semi-final combatants Casper Ruud and Marin Cilic.
01:35 (AEST), Sat 4th Jun @ Stade de Roland Garros, Paris
History: Played 2: Ruud 2 V Cilic 0
Last meeting: Canadian Open, 2021 (R32): Ruud d Cilic 6-3 3-6 6-3
Final Thoughts: With all the attention on the half of the draw containing Djokovic, Alcaraz, Nadal and Zverev, the unlikely duo of Casper Ruud and Marin Cilic have won their way through to a watershed French Open appearance.
Rising superstar Ruud had not been beyond the fourth round of a grand slam before. But the eighth seed loomed as dark horse after a semi-final run in Rome and a Geneva Open title in recent weeks. The 23-year-old has parlayed that promise into an outstanding fortnight in Paris.
Ruud beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets, brushed aside Emil Ruusuvuori in straight sets and survived a five-setter against Lorenzo Sonego in the third round. But he stepped his campaign up a gear with a four-set win over 12th seed Hubert Hurkacz in the fourth round and subdued the challenge of teenage bolter Holger Rune 6-1 4-6 7-6 6-3 in the quarters.
Despite the lengthy nature of his matches, Ruud has been broken only 11 times in five matches and pounded 13 aces past Rune.
The 33-year-old Cilic, meanwhile, has enjoyed a renaissance few saw coming. The 20th seed’s clay swing has been modest so far, while he hadn’t been past the Round of 16 of a major since 2018. But the 2014 US Open champ and Wimbledon and Australian Open runner-up has been in vintage form at Roland Garros.
Cilic lost just one set (and only four games on serve) on his way to the quarters, culminating in a 6-2 6-3 6-2 destruction of world No.2 Daniil Medvedev. He then outlasted seventh seed Andrey Rublev 5-7 6-4 6-4 3-6 7-6, smashing 33 aces to take his tournament total to 69.
Ruud carries the edge of a 2-0 head-to-head record against Cilic into this clash. He won on the Rome clay in straight sets in 2020 and took out a three-setter on the Montreal hard-courts last year. The Norwegian’s array of baseline shots and the topspin he generates on his forehands hold him in good stead here.
But it’s a daunting new stage for the 23-year-old and Cilic – with a couple of giant-killing performances behind him already – has plentiful big-match experience. The Croatian veteran is tremendous value as the underdog and a huge chance of grabbing the win.