Nadal hoodoo strikes Muller as Cilic breaks new ground at Wimbledon
Marin Cilic downed the Rafael Nadal-slaying Gilles Muller to reach his first Wimbledon semi-final as the hoodoo of beating the legendary Spaniard lived on at SW19.
Croatian Cilic had failed to make it past quarter-final ties in each of the last three years at Wimbledon and will have taken to No. 1 Court wary of his 34-year-old opponent, who beat Nadal in a five-set marathon on Monday.
However, just like Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown before him, Muller could not back up beating Nadal and went out in the following round, visibly tiring towards the end of another epic which went the distance.
The seventh seed regained his composure after an error-strewn start to win 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 5-7 6-1 and book a meeting with Sam Querrey in the last four after the American beat reigning champion Andy Murray in what could be another classic if their five-and-a-half-hour 2012 meeting - Wimbledon's second-longest match of all time - is anything to go by.
At the 11th time of asking, @cilic_marin reaches a #Wimbledon semi-final...-- Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 12, 2017
He beats Gilles Muller 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 pic.twitter.com/VaaVLAVn6p
The Croatian had beaten Muller en route to the final at Queen's just last month and was yet to drop a set at the All England Club, but blasted wide to hand over this match's first break point, which Muller converted with a drilled second-serve return.
The left-hander consolidated his break as one of numerous deep slices forced Cilic to net and a pair of wide forehands handed Muller the opener.
His efforts in the Nadal epic put the crowd at Muller's back and they were on their feet as an arcing lob left Cilic helpless before landing on the baseline perfectly as he retained momentum into the second set.
Cilic crucially saved break point in the following game, and had to respond in the tie-break when Muller whipped a cross-court return beyond him for the first mini-break. But Muller's trusty serve and volley then failed and a double fault handed Cilic the chance to level the scoreline with a sensational running forehand across court.
Only 11 points were scored against serve in the entire third set, but Cilic grabbed four crucial ones in game 12 and Muller's serve was broken for the first time since the fourth set against Nadal - 32 games previously.
Muller had played almost five hours more than Cilic in the tournament, but remained dogged on serve and saved energy for a game-11 onslaught in set four as unpredictable return lengths left Cilic baffled before a lucky net cord and inside-out forehand winner sealed a crucial break, converted behind more solid service.
Perhaps the extra miles in the legs had caught up with Muller, though, as Cilic roared to victory in the decider - a laser-guided cross-court forehand sealed just his second break of the contest, before the previously impenetrable Muller erred to give up another.
There was one last show of defiance as Muller corkscrewed into a backhand to open up a break point, but Cilic ruthlessly snuffed it out with three booming serves to send him into the semi-finals.
Cilic  bt Muller  3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 5-7 6-1
Muller - 54/28
Cilic - 74/34
Muller - 17/7
Cilic - 33/9
BREAK POINTS WON
Muller - 3/7
Cilic - 3/10
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Muller - 66
Cilic - 65
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Muller - 80/52
Cilic - 84/47
Muller - 147
Cilic - 154