Djokovic has been on a roll throughout the tournament despite receiving a tricky draw. He's already scored victories over Andrey Golubev, Radek Stepanek, Gilles Simon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and now Cilic. Despite that difficult road to reach this point, he still needs two more wins to capture the title.
One thing he's talked about consistently since bringing six-time major champion Boris Becker on as a coach is his improvement on the mental side of the game. He mentioned it again after knocking out Tsonga in straight sets, per Ron Atkin of Wimbledon's official site:
I was very happy with my mental consistency and the variety of my game made it a very good match for me. I think I did really well from the start to the end, especially in the third set where he elevated his level.
Partnerships between former and current players don't always work smoothly. The game has changed and often there's differing outlooks about what it takes to win. Djokovic and Becker seem to have struck a nice balance, though.
The top seed certainly looked confident in the opening set. He made constant inroads during Marin Cilic's service games, creating four break points and converting two, which is a notable accomplishment given the Croatian's improvement in that area.
Djokovic also did a great job of defending his own serve, winning better than 70 percent of points on both his first and second attempts. It was a well-rounded display of tennis that Cilic simply couldn't match, which turned the opening set into a 6-1 rout.
Express Sports noted the set took less than a half hour:
After looking completely overmatched in the first set, Cilic finally started to settle in during the second. He was far more competitive in the rallies, which took away a lot of the free points Djokovic was able to get early on by just keeping the ball in the court.
It also helped the No. 26 seed do a better job of defending his serve, which was a major weapon en route to the quarterfinals. Djokovic has two looks to break in the opening game, failed to connect and didn't get another one the entire set.
In turn, a single break was all Cilic needed to level the match. It was a very quick turnaround, but also more of what was expected coming into the match with a few key points deciding the set.
Wimbledon passed along the stats through two sets:
STATS: Cilic responds immediately on No.1 Court to take the 2nd set 6-3 after Djokovic won the 1st. Stats so far... pic.twitter.com/2vKVdIwUVp— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2014
As the third set wore on without a break for either player the mental strength Djokovic talked about began to turn into frustration. He generated six opportunities to take control of the set with a break and couldn't do it, which had a visible impact on him.
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Then, following a pretty straightforward set, things got hectic at the end. Cilic earned a late break to give himself a chance to serve for a 2-1 lead in the match but the six-time Grand Slam champion was able to get back level in the next game to force a tiebreak.
Djokovic wasn't able to build off the momentum of that break, though. Cilic was the better player throughout the tiebreak, controlling the points with his power and forcing the top seed well behind the baseline to defend.
The result was a 7-4 win to earn his second straight set after getting dominated in the first.
Wimbledon provided Cilic's reaction after taking the breaker:
With Rafael Nadal knocked out in the last round and Andy Murray's title defense coming to an end earlier in the day, Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times pointed out the sense of order had been eliminated:
Upset alert: No26 Marin Cilic takes a two set to one lead on No1 seed Novak Djokovic. Anarchy taking over at #Wimbledon.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) July 2, 2014
The emotions of winning the third set seemed to have a negative tool on Cilic. He came out a bit sluggish in the fourth, which didn't bode well against a player of Djokovic's caliber battling for his tournament life.
Sure enough, the favorite earned the early break he couldn't get in the third set and rushed out to a 4-0 lead before Cilic finally held serve. He wasn't able to mount a rally, however, as Djokovic held his next two service games to force a deciding fifth set.
Brad Gilbert of ESPN thought the decisiveness of the fourth set would turn the tide back in the top seed's favor:
Just think Djoker will find away to stop this upset alert win this 5th set convincing 6-2— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) July 2, 2014
Djokovic was able to keeping building off that success early in the fifth set. He earned an immediate break as Cilic looked like he was running low on energy. The emotion he showed late in the third set was long gone.
As Djokovic started to pull away, it showcased the difficulty level of beating on of the "Big Four." Cilic played awesome tennis across two sets, but it took so much out of him he couldn't maintain that form to close it out.
In turn, the 2011 Wimbledon champion was able to regroup and win the final two sets in pretty routine fashion.
Wimbledon highlighted the relief from Djokovic after the win:
Looking ahead, things won't get any easier from here for Djokovic after surviving that major scare. Next up is a semifinal clash with Grigor Dimitrov. The No. 11 seed has finally come into his own after years of hype. Djokovic holds a 3-1 edge in their previous meetings.
The good news for the Serbian sensation is that fitness isn't a serious concern. It's an area where he's improved markedly over the years, so he should be able to bounce back quickly despite playing five sets. He's still the player to beat at the All England Club.