Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic, the biggest men in the draw and the highest seeds in the top half, advanced to the quarterfinals of the Aircel Chennai Open on Thursday, but their paths couldn’t have been more different.
Berdych blew Somdev Devvarman off centre court in a raging gust of power-hitting, winning even more easily than the score-line of 6-3, 6-1 suggests.
Cilic, who claimed back-to-back titles here in 2009 and 2010, had to dig deep against Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Croat overcame a slow start to prevail 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Cilic faces Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals; the Frenchman dismissed Dudi Sela 6-1, 6-0 on an outside court.
Berdych has Roberto Bautista Agut next; the Spaniard, who played football for Villarreal until the age of 14, defeated Matthias Bachinger 7-6(4), 6-3.
If the 6ft 5in Berdych finds Thursday’s form, he’ll have no trouble with Bautista Agut. He had 6 inches and 20 kilos on Devvarman, and the difference in stature and strength showed.
Berdych appeared to have power in reserve — indeed he never hit a ball in anger; he held his shape and transferred his weight, his timing taking over. When stretched, he flicked his wrist, the right for the forehand, the left for the two-handed backhand.
Devvarman was ready to run down nearly anything, but no one can run down a ball that has already passed him. He began tentatively and sent back balls that dropped short, allowing Berdych to line it up. The first time the Indian dictated terms during a rally was at 2-5, 15-30, in the first set. He held, but won just one more game in the match.
Berdych had the match on his racquet from the beginning; Devvarman’s only chance lay in the top-seed being off his game, or getting frustrated, or tiring because of the humidity. Although Berdych was dripping with sweat by the end — it was, it must be added, the most pleasant day of the tournament to date — he was in full control of everything.
Cilic was exactly the opposite. Stakhovsky is a capable player: he uses every bit of his 6ft 4in frame to serve big; he can be spectacular off the ground when in rhythm.
The tactical battle-lines were drawn early. Cilic went at Stakhovsky’s single-handed backhand, so a change of direction from either flank was a weapon in itself.
Stakhovsky looked to get 6ft 6in Cilic to move forward diagonally and bend for low balls — for this he used off-pace ground strokes, but also the backhand slice.
The difference over three sets turned out to be the serve.
Stakhovsky served better in the first, Cilic, in the second and third. Stakhovsky was the first to break serve. Having pinned Cilic on the backhand side of the court, he stepped in to drive a single-hander down the line to go up 4-3 in the first set. He maintained this edge to win it 6-4.
Cilic was down 0-30 in the first game of both the second and the third sets. But he managed to get his first serve working.
It helped that the second-serve kicker to the Stakhovsky backhand, which climbed above the shoulder making the single-handed stroke difficult, was beginning to win points.
Cilic has worked on his first serve in the off-season — he is that rare Croat who doesn’t always serve aces at will — and the results of the work began to show. He held crucial games, consolidating the break in the second set, and ending the match in the decider, with successive aces.
If there was an error Stakhovsky made, it was in his timing of the serve-and-volley play.
In the business end of the games that he was broken, he allowed Cilic to land the ball at his feet and then pass him instead of engaging in a rally where they were more even.
Top seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Daniel Nestor bowed out of the doubles, losing 6-4, 7-5 to South Africa's Raven Klaasen and USA's Nicholas Monroe in a quarterfinal match.
Third seeds Rohan Bopanna and Rajeev Ram exited as well after a 6-0, 4-6, 1-10 loss to Wawrinka and Paire.
The results: Singles: Second round: 3-Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukr) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; 1-Tomas Berdych (Cze) bt Somdev Devvarman (Ind) 6-3, 6-1; 5-Benoit Paire (Fra) bt Dudi Sela (Isr) 6-1, 6-0; Roberto Bautista Agut (Esp) bt Mathias Bachinger (Ger) 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Doubles: Quarterfinals: Andre Begemann (Ger) & Martin Emmrich (Ger) bt Aljaz Bedene (Slo) & Blaz Kavcic (Slo) 7-6 (1), 6-1; Benoit Paire (Fra) & Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) bt 3-Rohan Bopanna (Ind) & Rajeev Ram (USA) 0-6, 6-4, 10-1; Raven Klaasen (Rsa) & Nicholas Monroe (USA) bt 1-Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) & Daniel Nestor (Can) 76-4, 7-5.
Keywords: Chennai Open