Marin Cilic rates Rafael Nadal as the slight Wimbledon favourite (Picture: Aspall Tennis Classic)Marin Cilic was in impressive form as he defeated Rafael Nadal at The Hurlingham Club on Thursday afternoon, but he named his beaten opponent as the favourite to win Wimbledon.
The Croat – a runner-up at The All England Club in 2017 – played an aggressive brand of tennis to down the 18-time Grand Slam champion, winning 6-3 6-3.
While few will take the result of an exhibition match too seriously, it was a reminder that Cilic, who has struggled to find his best tennis over the past year, is a force to be reckoned with on the grass and he will be a name many would do well to avoid in Friday’s draw.
‘It’s a nice test to play Rafa – not looking at the score but just at the game,’ Cilic said in a press conference at the Aspall Tennis Classic. ‘I was playing really well, served extremely good and moved around the court well, didn’t make many mistakes, which is extremely pleasing, and just feeling good.
‘This gives me definitely a little bit extra confidence and it proves I’m in a good way. I hope I can keep going like this and that I don’t have too many ups and downs in the next few weeks.
Marin Cilic put in a good performance against Rafael Nadal (Picture: Aspall Tennis Classic)‘These matches are a nice test to see how things can play out in a match and just work a little bit extra on your game. A couple of things you might not do in a regular match, being a little bit extra aggressive, taking the shot a little bit early, things like that, maybe stepping a little bit closer on the return.
‘Those things worked well for me and you know with that I made a little bit extra pressure on Rafa, he didn’t have these last seven or eight days since he started on grass any matches so you know also for him it was a little bit of a surprise but I played close to my best and in those cases sometimes, you know, throws things in my own way. When I’m playing like that there’s not that much can go wrong.’
Nadal typically has less time to prepare for the grass-court season than most due to his outrageously consistent success at the French Open and he won’t play a tour-level event before turning out at the All England Club.
The 33-year-old Spaniard reached the semi-finals for the first time in seven years in 2018 – losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a five-set thriller – but even though he appeared off the pace on Thursday as he was put to the sword by the 2014 US Open champion, Cilic would still be surprised to see him caught cold in the early rounds.
Will Rafael Nadal win the title? (Picture: Aspall Tennis Classic)He added: ‘The thing is as well they tend to get to the form up to the tournament. Normally they get in those first few matches, they find their hitting zone and everything so mentally they definitely are at a higher level when the tournament starts.
‘So you know on grass it’s a bit tricky because if you’re not timing the ball well or miss a ball here and there it can go quickly the wrong way so it’s definitely tricky for everyone. When you’re playing guys who are serving well and hitting big, that’s always a danger.’
It’s been 17 years since a player outside of the ‘Big Four’ – Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray – won the title in SW19 and many including Murray, who won’t be involved in the singles draw, think it’s a foregone conclusion the 16-tournament winning streak will be extended.
Wimbledon winners since 2003
2003: Federer d. Philippoussis2004: Federer d. Roddick2005: Federer d. Roddick2006: Federer d. Nadal2007: Federer d. Nadal2008: Nadal d. Federer2009: Federer d. Roddick2010: Nadal d. Berdych2011: Djokovic d. Nadal2012: Federer d. Murray2013: Murray d. Djokovic2014: Djokovic d. Federer2015: Djokovic d. Federer2016: Murray d. Raonic2017: Federer d. Cilic2018: Djokovic d. Anderson
Of the three most likely candidates, Cilic views Nadal as the favourite to get his hands on the trophy for a third time, despite him not winning Wimbledon since 2010, but believes others shouldn’t be completely written off.
‘Well, we are all in the draw to play to win,’ he smiled. ‘Definitely they have the biggest chances because they have been winning the most in the last few years. Rafa now winning the French Open I feel he might be a great contender, compared even to Roger and Novak he might be, in my own feeling, he might be slightly ahead. We’ll see.
‘I’m feeling really well so who knows? When the things start to roll, a few matches here or there you can have guys like [Kevin] Anderson did last year, guys like [Milos] Raonic, me, then [Alexander] Zverev as well who are big servers who can go and make a lot of damage.’
Meanwhile, there will be an all-British quarter-final clash in Eastbourne.
Dan Evans took out Murray’s Wimbledon doubles partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert in straight sets and will now face Kyle Edmund, who comfortably won another battle of the Brits against Cam Norrie.
British No. 1 Johanna Konta also went out on Thursday, losing 6-3 6-2 to Ons Jabeur.