France’s Adrian Mannarino recorded the biggest match win of his career on Saturday to reach the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017 final, his first at the ATP World Tour 500 level.
Mannarino out-thought top-seeded Croatian and Nitto ATP Finals contender Marin Cilic 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-0 in two hours and 43 minutes for a shot at his first ATP World Tour title in the fourth final of his career (0-3). It was Mannarino's first victory over a member of the Top 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
“It was a very tough match as Marin was playing well and putting me under a lot of pressure,” said Mannarino. “Although the third set was 6-0, it wasn’t easy. I tried to fight every point and that was difficult against such a good server. I didn’t miss that much today, my forehand and backhand were really good, and consistent. For a set and a half, he took advantage, then he started to miss more. From the middle of the second set, I felt more confident on his service games.”
He will now contest the Tokyo final on Sunday against another player hoping for a spot at next month’s season finale in London, fourth-seeded Belgian David Goffin, who leads 2-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.[ALSO LIKE]
Mannarino follows in the footsteps of Benoit Paire, the last Frenchman to reach the Tokyo final two years ago (l. to Wawrinka). The last Frenchman to win the title was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2009 (d. Youzhny).
Cilic came under pressure in his second service game, recovering from 15/40, before raising his level with groundstroke power to break for a 5-3 lead. Credit to Mannarino, be broke back immediately, and strong in defence — particularly on the backhand wing — saved set points at 4-5, 30/40 and 5-6, 30/40 before the tie-break. The Frenchman led 4/2 in the tie-break, but won just one of the next six points as Cilic sealed the 68-minute set with his third ace.
The second set was just as competitive, with Mannarino saving three break points in a 15-point first game and Cilic saving two break points in a 17-point fourth game. Mannarino, who tactically astute throughout, targeted Cilic’s backhand and was careful in his approaches to the net to take a 5-3 lead. Although he squandered his next service game, the Frenchman then capitalised on Cilic’s lapse in concentration to break to love for the 62-minute set — finishing when Cilic hit a sliced backhand into the net.
The pair’s second meeting began to unravel for Cilic, unsure of his tactics, with Mannarino winning seven straight games from 5-4 in the second set. The 29-year-old Mannarino is now 4-24 lifetime against Top 10 opponents in the Emirates ATP Rankings, with his first win over an elite player since knocking out then No. 10-ranked Milos Raonic in August at the Coupes Rogers second round in Montreal.
“I wouldn’t say that I am disappointed, I played quite solid,” said Cilic. “I just didn’t serve as well as in previous days, I wasn’t getting as many free points and ended up having to play long rallies. Adrian played really well, striking cleanly from the baseline and was tricky to open up. In the last set-and-a-half, he didn’t miss a lot and attacked a lot. I couldn’t find my rhythm on serve.”
Mannarino, now 28-22 on the season, also reached the Antalya Open final in May (l. to Sugita). Cilic, who is currently No. 6 in the Emirates ATP Race To London for one of the five remaining spots at The O2 season finale from 12-19 November.