A Stunner As Diego Schwartzman Takes Out No. 5 Seed Marin Cilic

Waving his arms as if they were wings, Diego Schwartzman exhorted the packed crowd inside Grandstand to make more noise.

Riding a wave of sound, the 5-foot-7 Argentine soared through a bumpy final game sticking a major landing.

Schwartzman broke serve nine times downsizing 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in a spirited 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4, triumph.

A year after Schwartzman failed to survive the first round in all four Grand Slams, the 25-year-old Buenos Aires-born baseliner charged into his first career major round of 16—and scored a major win for the little guy everywhere.

Giving up nearly a foot in height and several inches in reach to the Wimbledon finalist, Schwartzman straddled the baseline, took his opponent’s second serve on the rise and banged past the fifth-seeded Croatian for his biggest career win.

An energized Schwartzman hopes his victory inspires tennis-playing Davids taking the court against goliath champions everywhere.

“I hope maybe they can understand tennis is for everyone. Is not just for the tall guys,” Schwartzman said. “Sometimes it’s helping a lot if you are big, because you can serve fast, you can do everything fast on the baseline because you have more, the arms are bigger than me.

“I was always like this, and I always try to improve my tennis and try to don’t think about it.”

It is Schwartzman’s second career Top 10 victory coming weeks after he surprised seventh-ranked Dominic Thiem en route to the Montreal quarterfinals.

Think about how wildly open this US Open draw has become.

A 35-year-old Italian, Paolo Lorenzi, who took the court with just five US Open career wins to his credit, defeated compatriot Thomas Fabbiano in straight sets to advance to his first Grand Slam round of 16 in his 26th major appearance.

Schwartzman, who stepped out onto Grandstand with three Flushing Meadows wins to his credit, toppled a former champion leaving the bottom half the draw devoid of a Top 10 seed.

A strained abductor sidelined Cilic since his straight-sets loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final and the rust was clear.

Contesting his first tournament since SW19, Cilic lacked precision with his running forehand, looked tight at times on his second serve and was on the short of end longer baseline exchanges as the match progressed.

The world No. 7 littered the court with 80 winners, including nine double faults and faced service stress tests throughout much of the final two sets.

“Having a break and plus just being injured and not being able to continue with that good form obviously just put me down a bit,” Cilic said afterward. “Today, I wouldn’t say I played very bad, I was just struggling with some shots a little bit. The serve was off a little bit. Without playing that time I lost a little bit of the rhythm, but I have to say it was a tough battle with Diego. He was playing really well after that first set.

“I think he raised his level and it was a tough battle, especially that third set where we broke each other several times. Obviously, also a few chances for me to get back to 5-all in the fourth. Obviously a little bit disappointing, of course, to exit the third round of a Grand Slam—it always is—but I have to get back to the good form that I had.”

The 2014 champion departs the Flushing Meadows’ third round for the second straight year.

Cilic’s exit, coming after reigning champion Stan Wawrinka, 2016 finalist Novak Djokovic and 2012 champion Andy Murray pulled out with injuries, means only three former men’s champion’s are still standing—five-time champion Roger Federer, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and 2009 title winner Juan Martin del Potro—as the tournament celebrates Labor Day weekend.

The rapid steps he takes around court, his puffed out cheeks that could serve as storage space for a wad of bubble gum and the backward baseball cap he sports give Schwartzman the appearance of a ball kid who snuck out on court to hit with the pros.

Don’t be fooled by benign appearances.

The feisty Schwartzman plays with the baseline ambition of a young David Ferrer, who he swept in Miami earlier this season.

Take the serve out of the equation and Schwartzman stung the ball with more authority than Cilic on critical points.

All players carry some technical of physical limitations on court for the season’s final Grand Slam. Schwartzman recognizes his and adapts accordingly.

Compensating for his small stature and restricted reach with impeccable timing shrewd anticipation, Schwartzman roped a return right back at the bigger man rattling out an error for double break point in the fifth game of fourth set.

A spooked Cilic coughed up his third double fault of the set to gift the break and a 3-2 lead.

Unable to hit through his smaller adversary, Cilic tried squeezing shots closer to the lines and hit himself into a triple break point hole in the seventh game.

A brief eruption of “Diego Schwartzman! Diego Schwartzman!” came from the crowd after Cilic saved the first two break points. Schwartzman earned a fourth break point then drove a backhand into the corner that handcuffed the 2014 champion into a shanked reply for 5-2.

Schwartzman served for the round of 16, but Cilic stood tall cracking a backhand down the line to break back. Cilic pumped his 14th ace holding for 4-5 and forcing the Argentine try to serve it out again.

Schwartzman fought off three more break points before finally sealing a three hour, 23-minute victory.  

The USTA’s decision not to elevate third-ranked Roger Federer to the second seed—combined with a rash of opening-week upsets—gives Americans Sam Querrey and John Isner, 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille and Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov all legitimate shots to reach the final four from the bottom half.

In the afterglow of today’s uprising, the shortest man still standing sees room for growth when he faces either Pouille or Mikhail Kukushkin for a quarterfinal spot.

“Sometimes if you have lucky in the draw and you can take the chances, it’s always good for the new guys or for the guys who are out from the Top 10,” Schwartzman said. “I think many players are doing well this week, and they are taking the opportunities because they are injured. Many players are injured this week. I think we are trying to take the chances and try to go forward in the tournament.”

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