Shanghai Flashback: Rafael Nadal edges Cilic to set Roger Federer clash

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Shanghai Flashback: Rafael Nadal edges Cilic to set Roger Federer clash

World no. 1 Rafael Nadal advanced to his 46th Masters 1000 final and the tenth of the 2017 season in Shanghai. The Spaniard scored a hard-fought 7-5, 7-6 triumph over the 4th seed Marin Cilic in two hours and 11 minutes, scoring the fifth consecutive victory over the Croat.

Rafa was the more efficient player from the baseline, controlling his strokes and fending off three out of 5 break chances. Nadal delivered solid numbers on the return, creating 12 break opportunities and converting three, which was enough to propel him to the final, the first in Shanghai since 2009.

Rafa saved three set points in the tenth game of the first set and failed to create an early advantage, missing six break points on Marin's serve in games one and three. Finally, the Spaniard broke the Croat at 15 at 5-5, closing an extended set on own serve in the next one after more than an hour.

Rafa was 3-1 in front in set number two, having the match under control before Cilic broke back in game six to get back on the scoreboard. Nadal moved in front once again, converting the fourth break point in game nine, serving for the victory a few minutes later.

Cilic saved a match point and broke back, leveling the score at 5-5 before Nadal sealed the deal in the tie break for his 16th victory in a row. Rafa had 23 winners and 19 unforced errors, while Marin stood on a negative 31-40 ratio.

Despite more aces, Cilic couldn't create a gap in the shortest points up to four strokes, outplayed massively in the mid-range rallies thanks to the fact Nadal tamed his strokes more strongly. Nothing could separate them in the most extended rallies, and it all came down to the closing stages of both sets, where Nadal played better to wrap up the encounter in straight sets and save energy for the title clash.

Nadal kicked off the action in an emphatic fashion, having a colossal chance to grab the lead and seize the control early on, with three break points up for grabs in each of Marin's opening two service games.

In 2017, Rafael Nadal prevailed against Marin Cilic to reach the Shanghai final.

The Croat needed ten minutes to close the first game with an ace, having to work hard to fend off those three break points and repeating that at 1-1 to stay in front after 23 minutes.

Marin settled into a nice rhythm after that, waiting for a chance on the return patiently. It came in the best possible moment when Nadal served to stay in the set in game ten, with three set points for the 4th seed. Rafa saved two of those with service winners and Marin netted an easy forehand to waste the third, allowing Nadal to level the score at 5-5.

Cilic was punished in the next game, sending a forehand wide to give Nadal two break chances and falling after the first when his backhand landed into the net. Nadal closed the set in game 12 after a grueling 67 minutes, mighty relieved after that ninth-game scare.

Things looked even better for the Spaniard when he broke Marin in the second set's third game, opening a 3-1 lead and moving closer to the finish line. Cilic sprayed three fundamental errors in that game to put himself in a challenging position of being set and a break down.

Nonetheless, Nadal lost momentum in game six when he netted an easy volley to get broken, bringing Cilic back to the scoreboard. The Spaniard left that game behind instantly, pushing strong again and stealing Marin's serve in game nine for a 5-4 advantage, serving for the place in the final.

Ready to fight for every point, Cilic broke back after blasting a forehand down the line winner to make the result even at 5-5 after saving a match point, prolonging the set and his chances. Leading 4-3 in the tie break, Nadal scored two mini-breaks to earn three match points, converting the first with a service winner to reach the title match, eight years after the first one.