When I first started watching tennis in 2008, commentators forewarned of a time when tennis balls would fly past mere mortals who were 6-foot-3 or shorter. They warned that Wimbledon would become a feast for giants with booming serves and groundstrokes that could finish a point from both wings.
Well, the future is upon us. Within the ATP top 10 rankings, five players are at least 6-5 or taller: Alexander Zverev, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and John Isner. These big men are more agile than ever. The most talented can move laterally as well as their fellow competitors, within what some consider the golden range of height (6-1 to 6-3) among modern major champions. These “big movers” have pushed the limits of the human eye in return skills while regularly serving aces at 135 miles per hour or more. Yet we still haven’t seen a big man break through as a Wimbledon champion — let alone be considered a realistic contender — for a long time. Only when Marin Cilic reached the Wimbledon final in 2017 did the big-man threat on grass become a lot more substantial.
Marin Cilic could be described as the most gentle of the giants in tennis, also one who flies under the radar the most. The 2014 U.S. Open champion shocked the world by defeating Kei Nishikori for his first major title. In the following years he has backed that up by reaching the finals of Wimbledon and the Australian Open, losing both times to Roger Federer.
Cilic has reminded us of his prowess by reaching the final of the Queen’s Club event in London. Cilic has been clinical on serve this week. He has been broken only once in the tournament and didn’t surrender any break points in his semifinal against Nick Kyrgios on Saturday. Kyrigos is also among the ATP giants, but uniquely owns shotmaking abilities that are highlights of deft touch and explosive power.
Kyrigos wasn’t the first skilled server Cilic had faced this week. After his match with Gilles Muller, the lone man to break him this tournament so far, he talked about the mental pressure created by facing a fellow big server:
“It plays in your mind because you just can’t let yourself have lapses in your focus and concentration,” Cilic said.
His focus was supremely clutch on Saturday — it was the difference maker between himself and Kyrigos. They played the first set without creating or facing a break point. In both tiebreaks, though, Kyrgios committed early errors that allowed Cilic to lock down and simply focus on his serve. He did… and he stopped Kyrgios’s run by controlling the tiebreakers the Australian had thrived in earlier in the week (4-1 entering Saturday, 0-2 against Cilic on Saturday).
Next up for Cilic will be Novak Djokovic in the final. A world-class returner such as Djokovic has often been the ATP giants’ version of kryptonite. Cilic can take some comfort in the fact that he has been in more finals recently than Djokovic, but Djokovic leads the head to head by an overwhelming total: 14 wins to 1 loss.
This final could be featured on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon in a few weeks. Quite possibly, an ATP giant will have his day.