Novak Djokovic chased the first Cincinnati title three years ago as world no. 10, battling past some formidable rivals to advance into the sixth Ohio final. In the semis, Novak beat the 2016 champion Marin Cilic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 32 minutes!
It was a hard battle, and almost nothing could separate them, with Novak winning just two points more for his 15th victory in 17 encounters against the Croat and the 45th Masters 1000 final. The Serb saved nine out of 12 break chances, reducing the damage in his games and stealing Marin's serve four times to prevail after the decisive break at 4-3 of the decider.
Cilic was the more productive player, which was the right tactic, hitting 42 winners and 40 unforced errors, while Novak stood on a 26-27 ratio, winning three points more in the shortest exchanges where he had to keep the pace with a hard-hitting rival.
Novak claimed eight points on the return in the opening set, but that was enough for a single break in game three when Marin's backhand slice landed long.
In Cincinnati 2018, Novak Djokovic beat Cilic for Roger Federer clash.
That proved to be the crucial moment of the set, as Djokovic fended off a break chance in games six with a smash winner and another at 5-4 thanks to an unreturned serve to take the opener 6-4 in just under an hour. The tables turned in the second set when Cilic took charge, outplaying Novak from the baseline with deep and aggressive groundstrokes and scoring breaks in games two and six to open a 5-1 lead after the Serb's double fault.
Djokovic pulled one break back in game seven after Cilic's weak forehand and saved two set points on his serve in the next one before bringing it home with four consecutive winners, which was very important. Nonetheless, Marin sealed the set with a hold at love in game nine, firing an ace to introduce the deciding set, with momentum on his side.
Novak drew first blood with a break in game four when Marin netted a forehand, but his lead was a short-lived one, saving three break points before another double fault that cost him dearly, allowing Cilic to get back on the scoreboard.
Djokovic earned another break in game eight with a fantastic forehand down the line winner and sealed the deal with a forehand winner a few minutes later for his sixth Cincinnati final and the first at the Masters 1000 level since Rome 2017. Thus, Novak set the clash against Roger Federer, trying to become the first player with all nine Masters 1000 titles.