The seventh-ranked player in the world, Marin Cilic, has shambled through some smelly losses to start the new year.
First, Cilic lost to world No. 117 Jozen Kovalek at the Chennai Open. Then he suffered a second-round Australian Open upset at the hands of No. 44 Daniel Evans. Most recently he just lost in the first round of the Open Sud de France to Dustin Brown, a highly watchable showman but middling competitor ranked No. 71.
And now, at the time of writing, Cilic’s stuck in a close final set with dapper head case Benoit Paire in the first round of the Rotterdam Open. Cilic is the top seed here. Paire, a tournament alternate who subbed in after Stan Wawrinka withdrew, looks like he got the call about an hour ago while smoking a cigarette outside the club, and has been playing the match in his usual half-drunk style, too: walloping his big two-handed backhand for confident winners one moment, spraying dumb errors the next. (And spiking his racket no fewer than seven times, real good bouncy ones too.) Cilic should be serving the world No. 41 right off the court, but it’s been a discouragingly close affair.
Gone are the crisp Cilic service games; his last one just went to eight or nine deuces. He’s duffing routine overheads and shanking groundstrokes mid-rally. At risk of doomsaying this early in the season, something looks a little off here, and despite his pillowy soft draw, his prospects at Rotterdam look dim. No chance of beating Alexander Zverev here in his present form—that much is clear.