ATP Shanghai semifinal preview: Rafael Nadal vs Marin Cilic

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Nadal and Cilic meet for the first time in two years as they battle for a spot in the final in Shanghai (Ryan Pierse/)

Chalk held in the top half of the Shanghai Rolex Masters draw as top-seeded Rafael Nadal meets fourth-seeded Marin Cilic in the semifinals. The Spaniard cannot clinch year-end number one for the fourth time in his career just yet due to Roger Federer making the semifinals. However, a victory would put him one win away from a first-ever Shanghai title and an, even more, firm stranglehold on the race for year-end number one.  

Despite missing out on the US Open Series, Cilic is also one win away from not just a final, but clinching a spot at the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals. A victory would make him the fifth qualifier for London with Dominic Thiem also qualifying today.

The match will take place third on Stadium Court, opening up the night session in Shanghai. The match won’t take place before 4:30 PM local time and will be followed by the other semifinal final between Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.

Head-To-Head

The world number one has the edge in the head-to-head 4-1 over the Croat. Their first meeting came back in Beijing in 2009 which is when Cilic recorded his only career victory over Nadal. After meeting twice in 2011, the two did not face each other for another four years as the Spaniard won in a three-set affair in Basel. 

The pair met earlier this year in Acapulco with Nadal defeating Cilic in a brilliant performance which saw the Spaniard only drop three games total.

Nadal defeated Cilic in Acapulco earlier this year (Anadolu Agency/)

Road To The Semifinals

The world number one opened the tournament up with a bye but carried his form from his US Open and Beijing titles into Shanghai with routs of Jared Donaldson and Fabio Fognini respectively. For the third time this year and the second straight week, Nadal met Grigor Dimitrov. Their matches this year have been absolute epics, and this one was no different. 

Nadal took the opening set and had chances to break in the second. A resilient Dimitrov held him off to force a tiebreak as the Bulgarian clawed from a mini-break deficit to force a decider. Just like the past two meetings though, it was the world number one who performed better in the clutch to take it in three sets. 

Cilic also started out with a bye, but his first couple of matches weren’t as straightforward as Nadal’s. He battled with Kyle Edmund in two close sets and had the same type of duel with Steve Johnson. In the quarterfinals, he met Albert Ramos-Viñolas. The Spaniard had plenty of looks on the Cilic serve but could not capitalize which in turn made it easier for the Croat who struggled with his groundstrokes at times.

Cilic is one win away from booking his spot at the World Tour Finals (Xin Li/)
Cilic is one win away from booking his spot at the World Tour Finals (Xin Li/)

Analysis

It’s going to be another tough test for Nadal if he wants to reach the final. Dimitrov was the more well-rounded opponent between Cilic and himself, but the Croat poses the bigger threat power wise. Cilic’s best shot is his backhand, and while we know Nadal loves going forehand to backhand rallies, he might want to construct the point with forehand-to-forehand rallies

Standing at 6’6”, Cilic is gonna use his height to hit some huge serves to try and trouble the world number one, but Nadal’s return position and ability to get the serve back with depth will force Cilic to play smartly.

The Croat is an excellent mover for his height but his groundstrokes can be wayward at times. Cilic is going to have to be near flawless if he is going to pull off the upset on an inform Nadal.

Prediction: Nadal in straight sets



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