Kyle Edmund’s great, albeit unexpected, run at the Australian Open came to an abrupt end at the semi-final stage where the former US Open champion and Wimbledon finalist out-hit the young Briton.
Marin Cilic was relentless in Thursday’s evening match on the Rod Laver Arena, as he struck 39 winners past his young adversary during the two-hour and 18-minute contest which ended 6-2 7-6(4) 6-2 in the sixth seed’s favour.
I just stayed mentally very focused and tried to play every single point. It was extremely crucial in the tie-break to keep that pressure. Marin Cilic
Edmund, ranked 46 at the start of the first grand slam of the season, will rise into the top 30s when the new rankings are released on Monday. Had he managed to overcome Cilic, he would have overtaken Andy Murray to become the British No1, but that will have to wait for possibly another occasion.
He took a medical time-out at the end of the opening set which presumably was for some strain in his leg which became apparent in the third set when his movements looked to be somewhat restricted.
But despite the one-sided scoreline, Edmund continued to show that he has arrived and will be a threat in future draws, especially once he gains wider experience and improves his physical fitness which until the semi-final stage, was understandable bearing in mind he had come through a series of lengthy matches keeping him on court for 14-hours and 48-minutes.
The 29-year-old Croat, despite being the more experienced at playing these matches, showed some nerves at the start, bouncing the ball at least 20 times before serving but no doubt they settled when he staved off two break points in that opening game.
It became obvious that Cilic’s tactics were to keep the ball away from the Briton’s now famed forehand and by keeping his own shots deep, he managed to defuse some of that firepower.
Two breaks of serve gave Cilic the openings set after 35-minutes and much to the surprise of onlookers, Edmund, immediately headed off court for a medical time-out, his third of the tournament.
There was no evidence of any obvious injury as he resumed, and the match progressed with both holding serve but at 2-2, with Cilic serving and leading 15-0, Edmund queried a call which should have resulted in the point being replayed. Umpire John Bloom disagreed but the 21-year-old would have none of it.
“That’s rubbish,” Edmund told him. “Get the referee, I’m not having it.
“If the call is coming when I’m hitting the ball, it’s hindrance. Every time it works like that, why is it different now?”
He failed to convince either the umpire or the referee, but it fired him up sufficiently to hold off his seeded opponent sufficiently to force a tie-break. There his own serve was the first to be broken and he found himself trailing 4-3 and a few minutes later, was forced to concede the set 7-4.
Edmund had never recovered from two sets to love down to win a match and it looked very unlikely that would change here, particularly when Cilic broke serve again in the third game of the third set.
The Yorkshireman, now visibly slower about the court than in his previous matches, hung on but another break left Cilic serving for the match, and he clinched victory swinging a serve wide of the forehand forcing his young opponent into an error.
Cilic will face either defending champion Roger Federer or the unseeded South Korean Chung Hyeon, who play the second semi-final on Friday.
“Overall I’m feeling really good,” Cilic said. “Now I have two days off before the final.”
Commenting on the match, he added: “I noticed in the third game of the third set, when I broke him, he [Edmund] just let a couple of balls go past him.
“So I realised his movement was a little bit restricted, so I just tried to move the ball around and obviously that second break was extremely crucial.”
He admitted that he had his own problems. “In the second set I was up and down with my game, not getting enough returns back and he started to serve quite well and release his forehands.
“But I just stayed mentally very focused and tried to play every single point. It was extremely crucial in the tie-break to keep that pressure.”
Cilic, had also benefited from an opponent’s problems when top-seeded Rafa Nadal retired in the fifth set of their quarter-final clash.
“I feel really good,” he said. “Today was just a little bit different intensity than in the match with Rafa. In that match, I lifted my game a lot, and the energy was really good on the court. I think, over all, I’m feeling really good, thanks to my fitness coach, thanks to my guys. They are making me work hard.”
But he had nothing but praise for his young opponent. “He’s playing great tennis.
“The last couple of years he’s improved a lot and started great this year.
“He had an extremely tough run to the semis, a couple of five-setters and a couple of four-setters as well.
“Definitely it left some scars on his body. I can feel that too, but definitely he’s got a bright future in the game and we’re going to be seeing him a lot.”
Cilic lost to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, and trails him 8-1 in their head-to-head record, his sole win coming in the semi-finals on the way to his US Open triumph in 2014 the only grand slam title he has won. In contrast his record against Chung stands at 3-0.