Tommy Haas and John Isner headlined a talented field of men's tennis players descending on Delray Beach Tennis Center this February for the 2014 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
However, it was No. 7 seed Marin Cilic who maintained his recent strong form and emerged as the victor, knocking off South African Kevin Anderson in Sunday's final to win his second singles title of the season. The annual ATP World Tour 250 series outdoor hard-court tournament has been around since 1993 and has been held in Delray Beach, Fla. every year since 1999.
Haas, who entered as the world No. 12 and tournament's overall top seed, won the event in 2006, but was coming off a surprising semifinal exit here a year ago. His 2014 performance was even more shocking for how underwhelming it was, as American Steve Johnson defeated Haas in three sets in the second round.
Isner, currently ranked No. 13 in the world, hadn't competed since he was forced to withdraw from the 2014 Australian Open with an ankle injury. The 28-year-old was looking to become the first American to win this tournament since Mardy Fish in 2009.
The big factor counting against him in this tournament was rust—something Isner had to overcome if he was meant to be competitive in pursuing his first singles title of 2014 in Delray Beach, per CBS12.com's John Evenson:
I haven't really practiced that much since the Australian Open, so I'm just trying to get fit, just get the feel of putting hours on the court. I want to win this tournament, but if that doesn't happen so be it.
It was a commendable effort in his return to action, but Isner fell short in the semifinals versus the red-hot Cilic. Kei Nishikori, Feliciano Lopez and Lleyton Hewitt highlighted the other top contenders who showcased their skills throughout the week.
Read on to get up to speed on the how the event unfolded, starting with a recap of the thrilling, three-set final.
Marin Cilic defeated Kevin Anderson 7-6 (6), 6-7 (7), 6-4
In a compelling, back-and-forth finals matchup, Marin Cilic won a first-set tiebreaker, dropped one in the second set but battled back and held off a late charge by Kevin Anderson in the last set to win 7-6 (6), 6-7 (7), 6-4 on Sunday.
Both players are at least 6'6" in height and sport big serves, and Anderson smacking 18 aces to Cilic's 16. The key was what Cilic did with his second serve, winning 55 percent of those points, while Anderson won 45 percent of his.
Erik Gudris of USA Today reported what Cilic had to say in describing his emotions after he secured victory, as Anderson battled back from 3-5 down in the second set and staved off four match points to get a shot at winning:
"It was a roller coaster." admits a smiling Cilic to Tennis Channel. Yep. #DelrayBreach— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) February 24, 2014
Between the two finalists, they faced a total of 27 break points. Anderson threatened to break Cilic in the final game of the match, forcing multiple deuces before finally succumbing in a more exhausting day than is customary on the ATP World Tour.
Cilic has now won two singles titles already in 2014, which already matches a career-best in one season for the Croatian star. The 25-year-old is establishing himself as an increasing presence in men's tennis, and although this wasn't the most elite field, Cilic should be a force to be reckoned with in the bigger tournaments moving forward.
Winning two tournaments in three weeks is no easy task, and he lost to Tomas Berdych in Rotterdam in the other appearance. If Cilic can maintain this high level of play, there's no reason he shouldn't be competitive with the very elite in the sport.
Kevin Anderson defeated Steve Johnson 6-2, 6-4
Marin Cilic defeated John Isner 7-6 (5), 6-3
No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson easily handled upstart Steve Johnson in straight sets. Johnson had knocked off the tournament's top seed Tommy Haas, but Anderson saw to it his run came to an end.
The straight-sets win was the first time the South African advanced without dropping a set—aside from the ultra abbreviated 1-0 victory he was gifted when Ivo Karlovic was forced to retire after just one game on Wednesday.
The towering 27-year-old is on the cusp of winning his third singles title of his career. Marin Cilic foiled what could have been a finals matchup featuring two of the tallest players in the sport when he defeated John Isner in the semifinals.
Cilic sweated out a first-set tiebreaker, narrowly winning that 7-5 before taking care of business in a more comfortable manner in winning the second set 6-3. This is yet another strong effort from Cilic, who won a singles title in his native Croatia before falling to Tomas Berdych in last week's final in Rotterdam.
Day 5 Scores
No. 2 John Isner def. Rhyne Williams; 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
No. 4 Kevin Anderson def. Marinko Matosevic; 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3
Steve Johnson def. No. 6 Feliciano Lopez; 6-3, 6-2
No. 7 Marin Cilic def. Teymuraz Gabashvili; 6-2, 6-3
Tournament favorite John Isner battled back from a one-set-to-love hole on Friday to defeat unseeded American Rhyne Williams and reach the semifinals in Delray Beach.
After squandering three break point opportunities in the opening set, which he lost 4-6, Isner would convert on three of four the rest of the way. The combination of his strong play on return and his 18 aces was enough to eventually break Williams' will.
Seventh-seeded Marin Cilic blasted a dozen aces en route to taking out Russia's Teymuraz Gabashvili in straight sets. The 6'6" Cilic picked apart his opponent's serve throughout the match and was sensational in the key moments, converting five of six break points.
Unseeded challenger Steve Johnson was by far the biggest winner on Day 5. Entering Friday's quarterfinal as a mighty underdog against sixth-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, Johnson turned the table on his opponent, dismantling Lopez's second serve and saving three break points on his way to an easy straight-sets win.
Huge win for Stevie Ray Johnson taking out Flo Lopez to make 1st career semis, where he take on local resident Kevin Anderson— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) February 21, 2014
Johnson's win sets up a semifinal clash with South Africa's Kevin Anderson, who fought back from an opening set tiebreak loss to defeat Marinko Matosevic in three sets.
In Saturday's other semifinal, Isner will face Cilic in a battle between two of the tallest players on the ATP tour.
No. 7 - Marin Cilic defeated Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-4
Teymuraz Gabashvili defeated No. 3 Kei Nishikori - 4-2 (retired)
No. 2 - John Isner defeated Dudi Sela 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5)
Rhyne Williams defeated Marcos Baghdatis (7)6-7, 6-4, 6-2
Marin Cilic put on a clinic to open up the action against Ryan Harrison, winning 6-3, 6-4.
He dominated on his serve, hitting on 77 percent of his service points—simply overpowering his opponent. Cilic was also sharp on the return game, breaking serve once in each set to cruise into the quarterfinals.
"It was another good win,” said Cilic, as relayed by ATPWorldTour.com. “It wasn't easy today, a lot of wind. But I was putting the ball in the right places today and I think my serve worked well in the critical moments. It's new conditions every day and you have to be ready for everything and not take it for granted.”
Up next for the Croatian is Teymuraz Gabashvili—a surprise entrant into the quarterfinals after Kei Nishikori was forced to retire with an injury.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times wonders if the "oft-injured" Nishikori's latest early exit is cause for concern:
Cause for concern for Kei Nishikori? The oft-injured player retires down 2-4 in the first set in his Delray Beach match against Gabashvili.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) February 20, 2014
Cilic should be able to make short work of Gabashvili to advance into the semifinals.
No. 2 seed John Isner survived to fight another day after being thoroughly tested on Thursday by little-known Dudi Sela from Israel.
Sela got off to a hot start against Isner, taking the first set 6-3.
But the lanky American found his groove after a little while, and he came crashing back with a dominant 6-1 second set. The final set required some extra effort, however, as Sela forced a third-set tiebreaker, which Isner won 7-5.
A frustrated Isner discussed the extended match, per the ATPWorldTour.com report.
"It definitely didn’t need to be 7-6 in the third. I had four match points in that 5-4 game. It puts a lot of stress on me playing matches like that but I always seem to do it. But I’m glad to get through. I don’t think I have lost a three-set match this year and I’m proud of that."
Isner's next opponent isn't well-known, but it would be foolish to underestimate him after he continued his improbable run of wins by taking down Marcos Baghdatis in the final match of the evening.
Rhyne Williams, who earned a spot in this tournament as a qualifier, almost took the first set but was ultimately defeated by Baghdatis in a tiebreaker. Williams then won the second set 6-4 and the wrapped things up nicely in the third and final set, winning 6-2.
Live Tennis Results has the final score:
Delray Beach Open - 2nd Round: Rhyne Williams beat @marcosbaghdatis 6-7, 6-4, 6-2— Live Tennis Results (@live_tennis) February 21, 2014
It will be fascinating to see if Isner runs into trouble against this scrappy youngster from the University of Tennessee.
No. 4 - Kevin Anderson defeated Ivo Karlovic 1-0, (retired)
No. 6 - Feliciano Lopez defeated Adrian Mannarino 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
No. 7 - Marin Cilic defeated Benjamin Becker 6-1, 6-3
Steve Johnson defeated No. 1 - Tommy Haas 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-2)
Marinko Matosevic defeated No. 8 - Lleyton Hewitt defeated 7-6 (7-2), (retired)
The first huge upset of tournament took place on Wednesday. Unseeded American Steve Johnson knocked off top-seed Tommy Haas in a thrilling three-set match.
Johnson took the first set 6-4. Haas rebounded with a dominant second set and the two battled to a tiebreaker in the decisive third set.
Johnson emerged victorious in what has to be one of—if not the biggest win of the 24-year-old's career. ATP World Tour writer John Meiseles notes the major turnaround in Johnson's career.
Three straight Top 50 wins for Stevie J after starting his career 0-7, stuns Tommy Haas in a final set breaker in Delray.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) February 20, 2014
No one had an easier route to the next round than South African Kevin Anderson. After just one game in the first set, Ivo Karlovic. Per Harvey Fialkov of The Sun Sentinel, Karlovic was forced to retire with a stomach virus.
4th seeded Kevin Anderson advances after just one game 1-0 as Ivo Karlovic retires with stomach virus. #dbopen— Harvey Fialkov (@hfialkov) February 19, 2014
Before the bubble guts got the best of him, Karlovic was busy impersonating top-seed Tommy Haas to an uninformed fan.
Guy at Delray tennis center goes Hey Tommy can u sign this? and hands me a photo of Tommy Haas to sign... I signed it. Ha!— ivo karlovic (@ivokarlovic) February 19, 2014
Unfortunately, that fan has the autograph of a player no longer alive in tournament—no matter who they believe signed the photo.
No. 6 seed Feliciano Lopez needed three sets to upend Adrian Mannarino. Lopez could be dangerous in this tournament, but he's been pushed to a third set in both of his matches in Delray Beach.
Perhaps the most intriguing player is Marin Cilic. Fresh off a controversial suspension, he is beginning to put it all together on the court. He easily defeated Benjamin Becker on Wednesday. He now has 14 match victories this tennis season.
If the 6'6" 25-year-old Croatian can continue his hot play, he could be a major factor in the Grand Slam scene come July and August.
In the day's last match, Marinko Matosevic knocked off fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt. After losing the first set in a tiebreaker, Hewitt couldn't continue because of an injured shoulder, per Adam White of ABC Grandstand.
After losing the first set to Marinko Matosevic 7-6, Lleyton Hewitt retired from the match with a shoulder injury in Delray Beach.— Adam White (@White_Adam) February 20, 2014
Day 2 Scores
Marcos Baghdatis def. Jiri Vesely 3-6. 6-2, 6-1
No. 8 Lleyton Hewitt def. Bradley Klahn 6-3, 6-1
No. 1 Tommy Haas def Wayne Odesnik 6-2, 6-1
No. 3 Kei Nishikori def. Gastao Elias 6-1, 5-7, 6-2
No. 2 John Isner def. Michael Russell 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4
No. 4 Ken Anderson def. Tim Smyczek 4-6. 6-1, 6-3
Steve Johnson def. Mikhail Kukushkin 6-4, 6-3
Yen-Hsun Lu def. Ryan Harrison 6-4, 0-1 (retired)
Teymuraz Gabashvili def. Matthew Ebden 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
Marinko Matosevic def. David Goffin 6-2, 6-4
Dudi Sela def. Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-0, 6-2
No. 5 Rhyne Williams def. Alejandro Falla 6-3, 4-0 (retirement)
Ivo Karlovic def. Samuel Groth 7-6 (7-4), 6-3
The top seed Tommy Haas had little problems with American Wayne Odesnik. The latter managed to win only three games in the match. The match took just 55 minutes to complete.
The 35-year-old German should have plenty in reserve for the rest of the tournament.
One of Haas' biggest threats to win the championship will be the red-hot Kei Nishikori. He defended his U.S. Nationals Indoor championship last week in Memphis, Tenn. He has been playing excellent tennis all year.
He is the third seed in Delray Beach, and he knocked off qualifier Gastao Elias on Tuesday in the first round. The three-set win featured a rocky second set, but Nishikori regained control in the decisive third frame.
He was charged after defending his title last week as you can read from his post-tournament tweet.
Vamos!!!! Very happy with my first tournament win of 2014. Thank you Memphis Tennis http://t.co/HpC4LHNOcx— Kei Nishikori (@keinishikori) February 16, 2014
Will he be sending out a similar message when play in Delray Beach is done?
The No. 2 seed John Isner had his hands full with fellow American Michael Russell. Isner barely survived a second-set tiebreaker after dropping the first set. The third set was no walk in the park, but he managed to outlast Russell.
Lleyton Hewitt is another notable competing in Florida. At 32 years old, Hewitt is still chasing another huge run at a major championship. His work ethic is lauded and recognized here by Adam Hunt of Sky Sports.
Hewitt is seeded eighth in the tournament. He had a bit of a slow start against Bradley Klahn, but ultimately found his rhythm as advanced.
Last but not least of the potential standouts was Ivo Karlovic. The 6'11" tennis giant won in straight sets over Australia's Samuel Groth. He advanced all the way to the finals in Memphis before being cut down by Nishikori. It'll be interesting to see if he can build on that experience here in Florida.
Day 1 Scores
No. 6 Feliciano Lopez def. Sam Querrey; 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
Adrian Mannarino def. Jack Sock; 6-4, 6-2
Wayne Odesnik def. Mischa Zverev; 7-6(5), 6-4
Rhyne Williams def. Bjorn Phau; 6-0, 6-2
Gastao Elias def. Robby Ginepri; 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
Steve Johnson def. Samuel Groth; 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
Day 1 at the 2014 Delray Beach International Tennis Championships featured plenty of action but only two first-round matchups.
While American challengers Sam Querrey and Jack Sock were both eliminated in the two first-round showdowns, Americans Wayne Odesnik, Rhyne Williams and Steve Johnson were each victorious in earning a berth in the main draw.
The only seeded player in action on Monday was Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who battled back from an early hole to defeat Querrey in three sets.
The turning point for Lopez was his improved serve in the second and third sets. After awarding Querrey six break point chances in the opening set, Lopez was ultra effective the rest of the way, winning his remaining service games with very little trouble.
90% of Sam querrey's misses are from poor footwork and that's why he isn't in the top 25 could easily be fixed— Cody Glassley (@codyglassley) February 18, 2014
In the other first-round match on Monday, Sock squandered numerous opportunities. The 21-year-old would convert just 1 of 8 break points against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino and win only 8 of 24 second-serve points for the match.
Oddly enough, Mannarino's straight-sets triumph came less than one week after Sock defeated him at the 2014 U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships in Memphis.
Adrian Mannarino served Jack Sock a cold dish of revenge in Delray Beach, 6-4, 6-2. Such is life on the dog-eat-dog ATP Tour.— Chris Oddo (@TheFanChild) February 17, 2014
With singles draw qualifying completed, Day 2 will feature the tournament's stars as Tommy Haas and John Isner begin their journey to what they hope will be a ATP World Tour 250 series title.
No. 1 Tommy Haas
No. 2 John Isner
No. 3 Kei Nishikori
No. 4 Kevin Anderson
No. 5 Vasek Pospisil (withdrew with lower back injury)
No. 6 Feliciano Lopez
No. 7 Marin Cilic
No. 8 Lleyton Hewitt
Click here to view complete singles draw courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.
Click here to view daily schedule courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.