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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday January 23, 2018

A fierce battle for supremacy took its toll on top-seeded Rafael Nadal and eventually forced him to retire down 2-0 in a decider, sending Marin Cilic through to the Australian Open finals with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2, 2-0 RET victory.

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The match’s conclusion didn’t due the match justice, as Nadal and Cilic battled tooth-and-nail for the better part of three and a half sets before the physical nature of the match exacted the ultimate price on Nadal’s body. The Spaniard pulled up lame with what looked to be a thigh or hip injury after five games in the fourth set and though he tried to loosen up the injury, his condition only worsened as a zoning Cilic rained winners from his side of the court until Nadal finally pulled the plug.


“Really unfortunate for Rafa,” Cilic told Jim Courier on court after the match. “He’s an unbelievable competitor, always gives his best, and it was very unfortunate for him to not finish this match.”

An hour earlier it would have been hard to predict the eventual outcome.

Nadal seized the moment and took a two sets to one lead when he claimed an intense third-set tiebreaker, but the deflating moment did nothing to dampen the spirit or the all-out power barrage of Cilic.

The 2014 U.S. Open champion finished with 83 winners to 39 for Nadal, and he earned 19 break points against the 2009 champion, converting five.

Nadal played deep while returning serve, and he was forced to do a lot of running when many of his returns came back short and allowed Cilic to dictate points and put Rafa on the run. Cilic won 72 of 93 first-serve points and Nadal was only able to connect on two of his 10 break points over the course of the three hour and 47-minute tilt.

“I just thought I had to lift up with my game,” said Cilic. “I started to feel the ball really good and a lot of winners came from my racquet.”

The Spaniard drops to 5-5 in Australian Open quarterfinals with the loss—he owns a 21-2 record in quarterfinals at the other three majors.

Cilic improves to 2-5 against Nadal and snaps a five-match losing streak against the 31-year-old.

He will face Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the semis.

“He had an amazing run in this tournament,” Cilic said. “I have to keep going with my own game.”

 

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