Big-serving Marin Cilic produced a major upset by routing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the China Open on Saturday.
The eighth-seeded Croat cruised through 6-1, 6-3 against the No.2-ranked Spaniard, setting up a final against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who downed Sweden’s Robin Soderling 6-3, 6-3.
In the women’s competition, Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Russian compatriot Nadia Petrova, 6-1, 6-3, and will meet either Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland of France’s Marion Bartoli in the final.
Cilic broke Nadal’s serve twice in the first set, racing to a 5-0 lead as the Spaniard struggled to respond to the 21-year-old’s booming serve and aggressive returns. All but two of Cilic’s eight aces came in the first set, helping him to a first-serve percentage of 83.
He continued to baffle Nadal in the second set, breaking serve in the first game and again in the sixth, wrecking Nadal’s timing and outpacing him with his groundstrokes.
“From the beginning of the match until the end I didn’t let my level of play drop and definitely I came into the match really good,” said Cilic. “I was aggressive when I had to be.”
“The best thing I did today: I didn’t back off, I was just stubborn with my style of play.”
Despite losing all three of his previous matches against Djokovic, the Croat said he would enter the final with renewed confidence.
“I’m going to have a shot,” Cilic said.
Cilic’s strategy clearly worked and Nadal said he’d felt under the gun throughout the match.
“I’ve got nothing to say about the beginning of the match. He was serving unbelievably and his returning was very fast and playing winners all the time,” Nadal said. “The worst thing for me was that when I had a little bit of a chance to come back to the match I didn’t play very well either.”
“If you’re losing 6-1, 6-3, there are a lot of things you’re doing wrong in that match. I can accept to win, I can accept to lose, but 6-1, 6-3 is ... mentally I probably wasn’t there.”
Djokovic broke Soderling in the first game and after double faulting on deuce at 4-3, fired three consecutive aces to hold serve and went on to take the set.
Soderling took a 2-0 lead in the second set before Djokovic broke back to level at 2-2. Djokovic broke Soderling’s serve again at 4-3 and then served out the match with an ace.
“I assure you that it was a lot more difficult because he’s a big server, a big hitter and he was very aggressive throughout the whole match,” said world No. 2 Djokovic. “So I was very patient and I waited for my chances that were given to me and I used them at the right time.”
“I tried to get as many returns as possible in the court to make him play an extra shot. And that’s what I did extremely well.”