What Marin Cilic must do to beat Roger Federer at the French Open 2021?

8th seed Roger Federer sets up an exciting second-round match against the big-serving Marin Cilic in the second round of the French Open.  

Analysis of Federer’s first-round performance against Denis Istomin

Roger Federer began his campaign with a convincing 6-2 6-4 6-3 victory against Denis Istomin in the opening round. 

The Swiss star was in full control claiming 80% of points on first-serve, did not commit a single double fault, fired 8 aces, and pounded 48 winners.

The 20-time grand slam champion mixed up the rallies well with drop shots and forehand slices. Roger was efficient at the net too, clinching 79% of points. He also did not face a single breakpoint in the match.  

“I always struggle early on with my returning a little bit on clay, I do not mind the grass-court and hardcourt returns, as I am blocking it more than hitting it, I felt today I really made a bigger effort of going more in swing,” said a delighted Federer after his easy straight-set win against Istomin. 

Biggest Positive: Federer has not shown any signs of rustiness that he displayed in the ATP-250 Geneva Open two weeks ago. The Swiss legend hit the sweet spots and he will try to use his Sneak Attack by Roger (SABR) weapon more often to take points quickly. 

Analysis of Cilic’s first-round performance against Arthur Rinderknech

Cilic overcame the wildcard Arthur Rinderknech 7-6(6) 6-1 6-2 in the round of 128. The first set went down to the wire and the Croatian used his booming first serve to clinch the tiebreaker 8-6. 

Despite being backed by a passionate home crowd, Arthur’s level dipped as Cilic unleashed his power-hitting to win the next 2 sets at the loss of just 3 games. 

Overall, Marin Cilic grabbed 85% of his first-serve points, smashed 38 winners, and took all 7 points at the net.  

Biggest Positive: Cilic clinched 61.73% of points in short rallies (0 to 4 shots) against Rinderknech. The Croatian was also good in his volleys winning 5 out of 9 points. Cilic also let down a rocket with a 208 km/h ace.

Federer vs Cilic: Head to Head Record

Federer leads the one-sided head-to-head record 9-1 against Cilic. They have faced before on clay when the Swiss beat the Croatian 6-4 6-3 in the pre-quarters on the Monte Carlo Open, 2011.

"With Roger Federer, the age (39) does not matter, I knew he had the formula," said Marin Cilic praising the Swiss's determination and willpower at the highest level of the sport.

Federer and Cilic
Friendship put aside: Federer will aim to play first-strike tennis against the big-serving Cilic. Image Credits - ATP Tour

What tactics should Marin Cilic use to flummox Federer?

Avoid playing lob shots - Though Cilic can play well-timed backhand and forehand lobs, it did not work against Arthur Rinderknech in the first round. Cilic hit 3 lob shots but did not win a single point. Federer showcased his strong retrieval skills against Istomin with a couple of tweeners. 

Hit deep returns - Federer was sharp when advancing to the net winning an impressive 19 out of 24 points. However, the Swiss missed a few points when Istomin hit deep returns to the right corner. Cilic should adopt the same tactic and avoid tossing the ball to the front half of the court. Out of 89 points, Roger managed to take only 8 points in rallies that went above 9 shots. 

Hold serve - Cilic would have observed how Roger Federer made use of the mini service breaks against Istomin to build big leads. The Croatian will be pleased with his first serve winning percentage of 85. However, he needs to improve his second serve having claimed only 50% of points (14/28) on it. 

Statistical Analysis of Federer and Cilic on clay in the past 1 year

Player NameRoger FedererMarin Cilic
% of Points won on 1st Serve77.2%73.9%
% of Service Games won87.6%78.2%
Breakpoint Conversion rate40.5%39%
% of Tiebreaks Won80%27.3%
% of Deciding Sets Won33.3%63.6%

Wrapping Up

Cilic can beat Federer in the second round at Roland Garros if he plays long rallies, returns Roger’s wicked drop shots regularly, and targets the Swiss’s one-handed backhand. 

The opening set will be crucial for the Croatian and he needs to clinch 80% of his first-serve points. Roger Federer could close it in straight sets if he takes the first set.

Featured Image Credits - US Open - Twitter

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