Melbourne, Jan 26 (Calcutta Tube) Marin Cilic struggled through a five-set marathon capped with a closing burst of form to bury Andy Roddick 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 Tuesday and become the first Croatian to reach the men’s semi-final of an Australian Open.
‘It wasn’t easy,’ said the relieved 14th seeded winner. ‘But I had experience – it was his third five-set match of the tournament – during the week.
‘In the fifth set I had a few extra gears. He started to play better and I struggled on serve.
‘He was putting the pressure on and I didn’t know what to do. But point by point, starting win the first game when I held from 0-40 down, I managed.’
Cilic, in his first-ever Grand Slam semi-final appearance, faces the winner from holder and second seed Rafael Nadal and Briton Andy Murray, seeded fifth and an outside title chance.
The holiday victory on the national day was hard-fought, with Roddick looking like packing it in after being treated for shoulder pain after losing a tiebreaker first set.
The American former number one rallied from the depths to hang on and make a match of it against Cilic.
Cilic grabbed a 4-1 lead in the final set but had to hold on as seventh seed Roddick made a massive survival bid before finally going down. The American fired a return wide at the net to lost in just under four hours.
The Croatian produced 19 aces against 13 for the hampered Roddick, with Cilic breaking five times and finding 81 winners.
Roddick’s problem was the second for the American four-time semi-finalist after dealing with a knee problem last autumn which forced him to end his 2009 in October.
Roddick took a medical timeout after losing the opening set in a tiebreaker, telling the trainer he felt sharp pain in his right shoulder on big serves and high forehands.
He added that the trouble may have begun during his night-time win less than 48 hours earlier against Fernando Gonzalez. But the former number played through it all.
On the women’s side, Justine Henin moved closer to regaining her place at the top of tennis as the currently unseeded seven-time Grand Slam champion reached the semi-finals over Nadia Petrova 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
Henin is competing in only her second event since her return and is lined up for a semi-final against China’s Zheng Jie, who beat Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-3.
‘Today was my first match in the sun actually since I was in Australia,’ said Henin, 27. ‘We were playing under the roof in Brisbane.’
‘Here I’ve played almost every match in night session. And it was quite cloudy the other day when I played in the day. It was really difficult to find a good rhythm.
‘I felt energy in a few games,’ said Henin, who admitted ‘I lost the intensity a little bit, especially in the beginning of the second set. I just tried to stay calm.’
‘I came back in the second set and played much more aggressive tennis.’
Zheng is to play for the second time in a Grand Slam semi-final after reaching that stage at Wimbledon in 2008.
‘For me, this is amazing,’ world number 35 Zheng said. ‘It was a tough match because she beat Maria Sharapova in the first round.
‘I think I have a big chance for the semi-final. I started a little bit nervous, but I did well, winning in two sets.’
Henin, who retired as world number one in 2008 but made a return to the sport at the start of January, showed that she has lost little of the form which took her to the top of the game before her sudden retirement.
Henin was able to overcome Petrova, who had been on a giant-killing spree with wins over Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters (US Open) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (Roland Garros).
Henin was pleased to get off the court in good time, giving her more opportunity to prepare.
‘Now it’s good because it’s early, I’ll have good recovery and two good nights. That’s what I need. But it’s just a great feeling to be in the semis of the first Grand Slam I play since I’m back.’