LONDON (CNN) – Last year’s Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic has become the tournament’s latest big name casualty.
Given his form and his nation’s performance in Russia, a World Cup and Wimbledon double on the final Sunday could not have been discounted for Croatia. But one half of the equation was nixed Thursday when Cilic blew a two-set lead and fell to world No. 82 Guido Pella of Argentina 3-6 1-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 7-5.
The match resumed following rain Wednesday with Pella leading by a break at 4-3 in the third. Incredibly, he never lost the momentum. Five years ago at Wimbledon, Pella experienced much different emotions, stretchered off with a leg injury in a fifth set.
“When we came back, obviously he served two good service games in that third set, came back two sets to one,” Cilic told reporters. “Obviously a little bit different situation.”
Cilic said that a slip on the grass Wednesday did not affect him, nor the pressure of being one of the men’s favorites. “I was just not feeling as comfortable as yesterday with hitting,” Cilic added. “I was not as accurate. I was just missing some balls, some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back. That was playing a part.”
“It was not just the pressure. It was me not executing on the court well,” Cilic said.
Cilic’s departure followed losses by pre-tournament women’s favorite Petra Kvitova, former champion Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki, though the Dane faced the ever dangerous Ekaterina Makarova. Cilic’s Wimbledon exit is arguably the most unexpected.
Cilic defeated Novak Djokovic to win a Wimbledon warmup in London last month, and the players to have toppled the 29-year-old on his last five visits to SW19 are among the best performers tennis has ever produced: Andy Murray, Djokovic (twice) and Roger Federer (twice).
Even though Federer downed Cilic in the 2017 finale, he will be relieved to see the 2014 U.S. Open winner depart from his half of the draw. In their last six matches, Cilic won one and four went to a deciding set, including this year’s Australian Open final. The blowout last year at Wimbledon could be attributed to Cilic’s foot blisters.
Cilic will probably be asking himself for days how he lost to Pella, who owns no career titles and entered Wimbledon with two main-draw wins on grass in the top tier. Yes, Wednesday’s pause gave the 28-year-old a sliver of hope, but Cilic still led by two sets. And the Croat relinquished a 3-1 lead in the fourth. In the turning point of the fifth, Pella saved three break points at 2-2. Serving second in the decider, Cilic eventually cracked, especially his less steady forehand wing.
Although Cilic saved two match points at 4-5 with thunderous serves, there was no such respite at 5-6. It felt like he would escape when Pella ballooned a second-serve return long on the third match point but — after Cilic earned a game point — the left-hander completed the upset thanks to a forehand into the net by the Croat.
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