The last time the top seed crashed out in just the first match of the season opening Chennai Open was when Robin Soderling of Sweden had been handed a straight set defeat by Robby Ginepri of USA. Since then, the top seed had made at least the quarterfinals (Tomas Berdych in 2013) while in the last three years, the top seed had gone on to lift the trophy on the Sunday with Stan Wawrinka the name being announced on repeat.
That trend, however, will change on January 8, 2017 when the top seed won’t have the luxury to bag the winner’s cheque or the glittering trophy. Marin Cilic, this time’s top seed, crashed out in the second round – after receiving a bye in the first – to qualifier Josef Kovalik of Slovakia. In the marathon contest spanning two hours and 48 minutes, the Slovak prevailed 7-6, 5-7, 7-5 in front of hundreds in attendance at the SDAT Stadium in Chennai.
The World No 6 Cilic would rue the opportunities that came his way and weren’t converted. He had 11 break point chances but could only convert two of them – both in the second set.
But more than that, the Croatian played the key moments in the contest badly which turned the contest in the favour of World No 117 Kovalik.
In the first set, Cilic would lose the ninth point of the tiebreak, at 4-4, and then go on to lose the opener having faced break point in the very first game.
Fast forward to the third, the set would go to serve till 5-5 before two uncharacteristic errors would hand the decisive break to Kovalik. On serve, Cilic would hit two errors on both sides to make it 6-5 to the Slovak.
With two hours and 39 minutes played, Kovalik would have the audacious and nerve-wrecking task of serving for the match against the World No 6 and 2014 US Open winner Cilic. But despite the odds stacked heavily against him from the word go, the 24-year-old would continue to hold firm despite facing three break points in the final game. For that, he would have to give plenty of credit to his serving.
With three serves down the tee in the same speed bracket – 178kmph, 187kmph and 183 kmph – he would save two break points and then bring up the match point. The outcome would be complete with a close call but neither would wait for the Hawk Eye decision before shaking hands and walking off the court.
In the process, Kovalik has set up a quarterfinal with Daniil Medvedev of Russia who got the better of Yen-Hsun Lu.
In other singles matches, Albert Ramos-Vinolas would beat Steve Darcis and in the final singles match of the day, Dudi Sela would beat Hyeon Chung.
SINGLES RESULTS: Daniil Medvedev def. Yen-Hsun Lu 6-4, 6-3; Albert Ramos-Vinolas def. Steve Darcis 6-2, 6-0; Josef Kovalik def. Marin Cilic 7-6, 5-7, 7-5; Dudi Sela def. Hyeon Chung 6-2, 6-2.