Ramos-Vinolas Battles Past Cilic For SF Spot

Albert Ramos-Vinolas continued his run of form at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Friday when he reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final in beating Monaco resident and fifth seed Marin Cilic.

Ramos-Vinolas, who is contesting his fifth clay-court tournament of the year (15-5 match record), experienced no let-up from Thursday’s victory over World No. 1 Andy Murray when he beat Cilic 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-2 in two hours and 33 minutes.

The Spaniard, who is currently at a career-high No. 24 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, picked up his lone ATP World Tour title at the SkiStar Swedish Open (d. Verdasco) in July last season. Last month, he finished runner-up at the Brasil Open to Pablo Cuevas, the No. 16 seed from Uruguay, who squandered a 3-5 advantage in the deciding set to loss to French No. 11 seed Lucas Pouille. Ramos-Vinolas trails Pouille 0-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

Ramos-Vinolas so nearly let his 18th match win of the year slip away, when he led by a set and 5/3 in the tie-break. For one hour and 50 minutes, the Spaniard didn’t blink. But after he dropped to 0-2 in the decider, he managed to regroup and go on a run of six straight games for his first victory over Cilic since the 2011 Shanghai Rolex Masters.

“I cannot explain (smiling) [my improvement in form],” admitted Ramos-Vinolas. “To be honest, I think that I’m playing well. I’m competing very good. But I cannot tell you exactly what’s happen. I think I played good tournaments in South America in February on clay. Here I’m playing really well [and] competing in all the points. I really cannot tell you what has happened… But I hope to keep on this way for a long time. If it’s possible, to keep improving some things. Why not to play like this, and to play also this way on the hard courts and grass.

“Today, I think it was different because I was leading by a set and serving for the match at 5-4. I was playing very consistently all the time. But I think in the 5-4, he played an amazing returning game. Also, in the tie-break, I was leading 5/3, and I think he played four points incredibly well. I think I played a great tie-break, and he played really well. I don’t know if it was lucky or not during the four final points in the tie-break. He started also really well in the third set, but I think I kept playing. Maybe he was a little bit tired, I don’t know. I started to play really well in the third set.”

Cilic dominated the early exchanges, centred on his powerful forehand, having grown in confidence after beating ninth seed and 2015 runner-up Tomas Berdych the day before. But Ramos-Vinolas continued to slug it out from deep behind the baseline, just as he did against Murray, to wear down Cilic. Two service breaks in the third and seventh games of the first set went the way of Ramos-Vinolas, who closed out on his third set point opportunity with Cilic striking a backhand return long.

Although Cilic committed an unforced error at 30/40 on Ramos-Vinolas’ serve, when leading 1-0, his frustration began to grow on another hot day at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. Unable to make an impact on Ramos-Vinolas’ serve, at 3-3 Cilic dropped to 0/40 and paid the price with another mis-timed groundstroke. The Croatian regrouped and, in waiting for the ball, rather than taking the ball early, broke Ramos-Vinolas to 15 with four straight forehand winners to level at 5-5. Ramos-Vinolas then saved one set point at 5-6, 30/40, prior to squandering a 5/3 lead in the tie-break.

Cilic sensing Ramos-Vinolas was shaken, broke in the first game of the decider, but he couldn’t make it count as Ramos-Vinolas converted his fifth break point chance in a lengthy fourth game. Thereafter, Cilic won just five points, striking his third double fault in the final game to be broken to love.

The 29-year-old Spaniard recorded his fifth Top 10 victory (5-26 lifetime) and he is now 18-11 on 2017. Cilic, who had not lost a set to Ramos-Vinolas in their previous three meetings (including one on clay at 2012 Hamburg), dropped to a 7-8 mark on the season.

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